(New York) - Sussan Tahmasebi, recipient of the Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism for 2010, dedicated her award to the imprisoned lawyer and human rights defender Nasrin Sotoudeh and other detained women activists on November 10, 2010. Human Rights Watch is presenting the award to Tahmasebi for her courageous work to promote civil society and women's rights in Iran.
Tahmasebi expressed her concern about Sotoudeh's deteriorating health. Sotoudeh has been on a "dry" hunger strike since October 31, 2010, refusing to eat or drink anything to protest being held in solitary confinement since her arrest on September 4. Prosecutors charged Sotoudeh with various national security crimes, but have not made public any information regarding the basis for these charges.
"Nasrin Sotoudeh has dedicated her life to defending the rights of the accused, often at great risk to herself and her family," Tahmasebi said. "Now she is behind bars, for no other reason than being unwilling to compromise with authorities when it comes to safeguarding her clients' due process rights."
Prison officials have prevented Sotoudeh from meeting with her husband and lawyer. Sotoudeh's health is in serious decline and she is in critical need of emergency intervention, Tahmasebi said.
Since 2005, and especially since the disputed presidential election in June 2009, Iran has stepped up repressive measures against Iranian civil society activists, including those who advocate women's rights and speak out against discriminatory laws. The government has arrested scores of volunteers and members of the One Million Signatures Campaign, a grass-roots campaign aimed at overturning discriminatory laws.
"Iranian women in prison today include human rights activists, lawyers, journalists, and students," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "What they have in common is their relentless pursuit of justice, at great risk to themselves, their families, and their reputations."
Tahmasebi expressed particular concern about three other women sentenced to prison for their work:
- Bahareh Hedayat, the first secretary of the Women's Commission of the Office to Foster Unity (Tahkim-e Vahdat), and the first - and so far only - woman elected to the national student organization's central committee. Authorities arrested her on December 30, 2009, and charged her with various national security crimes, including "propaganda against the system," "disturbing public order," "participating in illegal gatherings," and "insulting the president." In May, Judge Moghiseh of Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court sentenced Hedayat to nine and a half years in prison in relation to her student and women's rights activities. In July, an appeals court upheld the sentence. She has remained in prison since her arrest and is currently serving her term.
- Jila Baniyaghoub, an award-winning journalist and women's rights activist. Security forces arrested her and her husband in their home on June 20, 2009. Prosecutors charged her with "propaganda against the regime" for her journalism and released her on bail after she spent two months in detention. Her husband, Bahman Ahmadi Amoui, is currently serving a five-year sentence on various national security charges related to his journalism. On June 8, a revolutionary court sentenced Baniyaghoub to a year in prison and barred her from working as a journalist for 30 years. In late October an appeals court affirmed the lower court's ruling. She has not yet begun her sentence.
- Shiva Nazar Ahari, a human rights activist who worked with the Committee of Human Rights Reporters. Security forces arrested her on December 20, 2009, as she and several colleagues were preparing to take a bus to Qom to attend the funeral of Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, a dissident cleric who long criticized the government. Prosecutors charged her with "assembly and collusion to commit a crime," "propaganda against the regime," and moharebeh, a vaguely defined offense meaning "enmity against God" that carries the death penalty and is often reserved for people accused of belonging to an organization that takes up arms against the state. On September 18, a revolutionary court sentenced Ahari to six years in prison, to be served in Izeh prison, 500 miles from Tehran, her home town. Ahari's lawyer has appealed.
Tahmasebi also referred to the situation of several other women activists and journalists who have been sentenced to prison terms. These women include:
- Aliyeh Eghdamdoust, a women's rights activist serving a three-year sentence for national security crimes after taking part in a peaceful women's rights gathering at Haft-e Tir square in Tehran on June 12, 2006.
- Shabnam Madadzadeh, deputy chair of the Tehran Council of Tahkim-e Vahdat, the national student organization. Authorities arrested her and her brother on February 20, 2009. Prosecutors charged the two with moharebeh and "propaganda against the regime" in connection with their student activities. In February, after they spent a year in detention, Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court, headed by Judge Moghiseh, sentenced them to five years in prison. Prison authorities transferred her to Rajai Shahr prison in Karaj, where conditions are notably poor, on August 2. They have denied her family's requests for medical leave though she reportedly suffers from numerous physical ailments.
- Mahdieh Golroo, a student activist and member of the Committee to Defend the Right to Education, a group dedicated to restoring the rights of students prohibited from continuing their college education because of their political activities. She has been in prison since November 3, 2009. A revolutionary court convicted her of national security crimes and sentenced her to 28 months in April 2010. Although she reportedly suffers from intestinal problems, prison authorities have refused to grant her temporary medical leave.
- Jila Tarmasi, a member of a group of mothers protesting their children's detentions, who was arrested on October 9, along with her daughter, when security forces raided her home in Tehran. Tarmasi's daughter was released after 12 days, but Tarmasi still remains in prison and has not been allowed visits by her family. She joined the "Mourning Mothers," now called the "Mothers of Laleh Park," to protest her son's detention. "Mourning Mothers" was established in June 2009 by mothers whose children lost their lives in state-sanctioned violence following Iran's disputed June 12 election. They used to conduct silent protests in Tehran's Laleh Park, but security forces now prevent them from holding the protests.
- Akram Zienali, another member of "Mourning Mothers," was also arrested on October 9 along with her daughter when security forces raided her home in Tehran. Her daughter was released after 12 days, but Zeinali remains in custody. Her son, Saeed Zeinali, was a university student arrested 11 years ago after protests erupted at Tehran University. He has since disappeared, and his mother has been trying for years to discover his fate.
- Fatemeh Masjedi, a member of the One Million Signatures Campaign from Qom who worked to promote women's rights. She was charged with "spreading propaganda against the state" and supporting a "feminist group which works in opposition to the regime" and sentenced on August 29 to a year in prison. Her lawyer is filing an appeal, and she has not yet begun serving her term.
- Maryam Bidgoli, another Qom resident who is a member of the One Million Signatures Campaign and who worked for women's rights. She was arrested and sentenced to a year in prison along with Masjedi, on the same charges. Her lawyer is filing an appeal and she has not yet begun serving her term.
- Mahsa Amrabadi, a journalist who sent a public letter to the head of the Judiciary, Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, criticizing the arrest and detention of journalists, including her husband, Massoud Bastani. Judge Moghiseh of Branch 28 of Iran's Revolutionary Court sentenced her to a year in prison in October for "acting against national security" in connection with her interviews and reports regarding the post-election crackdown on journalists. She has not yet appealed the decision in her case nor has she begun serving her prison term.
- Hengameh Shahidi, a journalist and women's rights activist sentenced to six years in prison on November 15, 2009, by Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court. Security forces arrested her on June 30, 2009, in Tehran and charged her with various national security crimes, including "participation in illegal gatherings," "propaganda against the regime," and "insulting the president." After persistent requests from her family, authorities temporarily released her from Evin prison on October 28 so that she could undergo medical treatment for a variety of physical ailments, including heart problems.
Tahmasebi called on the Iranian authorities to release those who are serving prison terms or are in "temporary detention," including Nazanin Khosravani, a journalist who was arrested by security forces last week, and to overturn the convictions of all of the women whose cases she highlighted.