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Silencing the Women's Rights Movement in Iran

Many had experience in mobilizing grass roots support and reaching media outlets in the face of heavy suppression. The Iranian regime recognized this connection and the danger presented by these veteran activists passing along their knowledge, organizational expertise and experience to the larger yet somewhat less-organized green movement." 117

The regime, therefore, immediately honed in on women's rights activists. It attempted to dismantle the movement by silencing leaders, both home and abroad, and arresting and jailing activists, both active and relatively inactive. Two days before the election, then-Prosecutor General of Tehran, Saeed Mortazavi, wrote a letter instructing law enforcement officials to arrest activists who attempted to accuse Iranian authorities of rigging the election results." 118 There is evidence that officials used that letter to arrest, without cause, many women's rights activists immediately following the announcement of the election results. For example, Mohammad Mostafaei, Hengameh Shahidi's lawyer, has reported that Shahidi's case file contains a copy of the letter but no warrant.119

The goal of silencing women's rights activists was confirmed in the indictment that was read at the first of a series of mass show trials in August 2009, and during interrogations of activists. The indictment alleged that the women's rights movement was a leader in the alleged "velvet coup."120 Women's rights activist Aida Saadat recalled that her interrogator told her "Our red line is where the women's rights movement enters the green movement."121 She continued:

[The Iranian authorities] knew that the women's movement had personnel and resources and if the women's movement was brought forth and fused with the street movement that was forming, it would have a huge impact on the latter in terms of organization. The members of the women's movement had experience and could give guidance and direction to the demonstrations and create organizations to support the green movement. This was [the Iranian government's] fear." 122

The scope of the arrests was broad and deep. Those arrested included (1) leaders of the women's rights movement, particularly the women named in the first indictment, (2) veteran women's rights activists and their lawyers, (3) leaders, members and signature collectors of the One Million Signatures Campaign, and (4) members of the Mourning Mothers organization123 who participated in peaceful gatherings to protest their loved ones' detention.

The arresting agents often did not provide identification or arrest warrants, and conducted warrantless searches of homes and workplaces.

[117] IHRDC Interview with Aida Saadat (April 15, 2010) (on file with IHRDC).
[118] Qissihyih Pur Qussihyih Parvandihyih Hengameh Shahidi [The Sorrowful Tale of the Case of Hengameh Shahidi], RAHANA, April 9, 2010, available at http://www.rhairan.in/archives/9040.
[119] Id.
[120] Matn-i Kamil-i Kayfarkhast-i Muda'ialumum Alayhih Mutahamin-i Prujihyih Shikastkhurdihyih Kuditayih Makhmali [Complete Text of the Indictment of the Prosecutor General Against the Accused of the Failed Velvet Coup], Fars News Agency, August 1, 2009, available at http://www.farsnews.net/newstext.php?nn=8805100944 [See http://www.iranhrdc.org/httpdocs/English/reports.htm for a paginated translation].
[121] The "Red Line"' denotes the official and unofficial censorship rules that Iranian civil society and journalists must not cross if they hope to avoid retaliation. Crossing the "Red Line" can result in any number of consequences, the most serious of which is execution. See Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, Ctrl+Alt+Delete: Iran's Response to the Internet 8-9, available at http://iranhrdc.org/httpdocs/English/reports.htm.
[122] IHRDC Interview with Aida Saadat (April 15, 2010) (on file with IHRDC).
[123] The Mourning Mothers (Madaran-i Azadar) is a civil society group formed by mothers (and their supporters) who lost their children and spouses in state-sanctioned violence following Iran's disputed June 2009 presidential election. The Mourning Mothers held vigils for their loved ones in parks all over Tehran during that summer. Eventually, mothers whose family members were executed in Iranian prisons in the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s attended the gatherings, and the group spread throughout Iran and worldwide. IHRDC Interview with Aida Saadat, (April 15, 2010) (on file with IHRDC); IHRDC Interview with Asieh Amini (June 11, 2010) (on file with IHRDC). See infra notes 220-27 and accompanying text.

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Tagged as:

Sexual Violence, Gender Rights, Death Penalty, Political Killings, Executions, Torture, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment, Punishment, Personal Liberty, Arbitrary Detention, Travel Restrictions, Due Process, Right to an Attorney, Illegal Search and Seizure, Free Speech, Right to Protest, Protests, Free Association, Child Rights, Political Freedom, Equality Before the Law, Discrimination