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Iran: Suspend Heavy Sentence for Women’s Rights Activist

Government Detains More Activists and Students in Extended Sweep

(New York, November 10, 2007) – The head of Iran’s Judiciary, Ayatollah Shahrudi, should suspend a two-and-a-half-year prison sentence upheld this week against women’s rights activist Delaram Ali, Human Rights Watch said today. Such a step is permitted under Iranian law. The government should also release at least 10 other students and activists it has detained for their participation in peaceful demonstrations and campaigns.

" Instead of punishing a young woman for peacefully protesting, the Iranian government should hold security forces accountable for violently disrupting a demonstration of women activists. "
Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch

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On July 2, Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran sentenced Ali, a 24-year-old sociology student and women’s rights activist who works with the One Million Signatures Campaign for Equality, to two years and 10 months in prison and 10 lashes for participating in a peaceful demonstration on June 12, 2006, which police and security forces had violently disrupted. On November 4, Branch 36 of the Appeals Court in Tehran upheld her conviction on charges of “acting against national security” and “advertising against the system,” but reduced her sentence to two and a half years. It is not clear whether her sentence still includes lashing. Human Rights Watch opposes lashing in all circumstances as a cruel and inhuman punishment, illegal under international human rights law. Court authorities have informed Ali that she is to begin serving her prison sentence on November 10.  
“Instead of punishing a young woman for peacefully protesting, the Iranian government should hold security forces accountable for violently disrupting a demonstration of women activists,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.  
Ali’s sentence suggests a new intensity in the government’s crackdown on campaigners for the equal rights of women, in contrast to prior periods when the authorities have handed down only suspended sentences. Women’s rights activists in Iran who spoke to Human Rights Watch have expressed concern that they may face even further governmental persecution.  
In the past month, the authorities have arrested at least three other women’s rights campaigners. On September 25, eight security officers in the northwestern city of Sanandaj arrested women’s rights activist Ronak Safazadeh, 21, as she was leaving her house to go to work. Eighteen days after her arrest, court authorities informed her family that they had extended a temporary detention order against Safazadeh for an additional month. Safazadeh’s family has not been able to meet with her, and the court has not allowed lawyers who have volunteered to represent her to examine her case files.  
On October 23, seven security officers arrested Hana Abdi, 21, another women’s rights campaigner in the city of Sanandaj, as she left her grandfather’s home.  
Both Abdi and Safazadeh are members of the Azarmehr Association of Women of Kurdistan, a group that organizes capacity-building workshops and sports activities for women in the city of Sanandaj and elsewhere in the Iranian province of Kurdistan. Abdi and Safazadeh are also active with the One Million Signatures Campaign for Equality.  
In the last month, the authorities also have arrested a number of other activists. On November 4, security forces arrested student activist Ali Azizi at his home in Tehran. On November 8, security forces searched the home of student activist Ali Nikonesbati and arrested him. Both students are members of the Office of the Consolidation of Unity, a prominent reformist student organization with branches in universities throughout Iran. Nikonesbati and Azizi have been vocal critics of the government’s crackdown on peaceful student activists. The authorities have not announced any charges against them.  
Human Rights Watch is also concerned about the cases of five students in the southwestern city of Ahvaz. On October 16, security forces in the city of Ahvaz arrested five student journalists and activists on the campus of Chamran University – Roozbeh Karimi, Javad Tavalli, Javad Alikhan, Mehdi Mansouri, and Raee Nikzad. In statements to the press, Farzad Farhadirad, the deputy of the Prosecutor’s Office of the General and Revolutionary Courts in the city of Ahvaz, claimed that the government carried out the arrests to preempt the students from distributing fliers that “insulted Islamic sanctities.” Article 513 of the Islamic Penal Codes of Iran criminalizes “insults” to any of the “Islamic sanctities.”  
“Women’s rights activists, student activists – no one who criticizes the government is safe in Iran,” said Whitson. “These arrests should be seen as a sign of the Ahmadinejad administration’s utter desperation and insecurity about the basis of its own popular support in the country.”  
Human Rights Watch called on the Iranian government to amend or abolish provisions that impose criminal penalties for the free expression of ideas, such as Article 513 and 514 of the Islamic Penal Codes, as well as vague “security” laws that unduly restrict the right to peaceful association and assembly, such as Articles 500, 610 and 618.

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