Monday , 15 July 2024

Iran Goes After Its Women Activists as World’s Attention Turns to Its Sham Election

CHRI – Women Activists In and Outside Iran’s Prisons Targeted for Harsh Retribution

As the Iranian government touts its democratic credentials with a carefully orchestrated presidential election that includes only state-approved candidates, the Islamic Republic’s violent repression of women and the activists defending their rights has intensified across the country.

Investigations by the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) show that since the death of President Ebrahim Raisi on May 19, 2024, the Islamic Republic has ramped up its assault on women activists—both inside and outside of Iran’s prisons.

Key findings during this period include:

  • At least 12 women activists have been sentenced to prison terms, some as long as 21 years, in prosecutions lacking any semblance of due process or fair trial rights, including the denial of chosen counsel.
  • Some of these women activists were tortured during detention and at least two have been charged with crimes that can carry the death penalty in Iran.
  • On June 18, imprisoned Nobel Peace laureate Narges Mohammadi was sentenced to an additional year in prison on the manufactured charge of “propaganda against the state.”
  • At least six women prisoners of conscience with serious medical conditions have been denied medical treatment by prison authorities—including an ailing elderly woman prisoner and one pregnant prisoner—and at least five have gone on hunger strike in protest.
  • Many of these women prisoners have also been denied contact with their families or lawyers.

“The Islamic Republic is using the distraction of its presidential ‘election’ to go after its women activists and cow them into silence through imprisonment and abuse,” said CHRI Executive Director Hadi Ghaemi.

“Just as these brave women activists continue to speak out—at high cost—for the fundamental rights of Iranian women, so too must the international community stand with them, condemn their oppression, and support the struggles and sacrifices of Iranian women for freedom and equality,” Ghaemi said.

CHRI calls on the international community to:

  • Renew its full attention to the Islamic Republic’s violent repression and unlawful prosecution of women activists in Iran, and not be distracted by elections in Iran that are neither free nor fair.
  • Summon the Islamic Republic’s diplomatic representatives to warn the world is watching and will respond to these unlawful prosecutions and the abuse of women prisoners.
  • Publicly condemn in international forums the Islamic Republic’s intensified assault on women activists and its oppression of women.
  • Continue to identify and sanction human rights violators, including the intelligence and judicial officials involved in arresting, interrogating, and sentencing Iranian women activists.

Unlawful Prosecutions and Abuse in Prisons

On May 21, 2024, when President Ebrahim Raisi’s death was officially announced, there were reports of restrictions on prison phone calls and family visitations for Narges Mohammadi, Sepideh Qolian, Atena Farghadani, Narges Mansouri, and Varisheh Moradi in Tehran’s Evin Prison.

On June 11, 2024, cartoonist Atena Faraghdani was sentenced to six years in prison—five years mandatory if upheld on appeal.

On June 16, 2024, Narges Mohammadi’s lawyer Mostafa Nili announced that his client, who is already serving a 13-year sentence in Evin Prison for her peaceful advocacy of human rights, was sentenced to one more year of imprisonment as punishment for her revelations about sexual assault and the physical and psychological abuse of women prisoners.

On June 20, 2024, Branch 5 of the Islamic Revolutionary Court in Mashhad, northeast Iran, sentenced Fatemeh Sepehri to 18 years and six months in prison on charges of “assembly and collusion against national security,” “insulting” Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and “propaganda against the state.”

Sepehri has been in Mashhad’s Vakilabad Prison since September 21, 2022. According to a source familiar with her case, her phone calls from prison have been strictly monitored for several months, and she has been denied medical leave despite undergoing heart and hand surgeries.

On June 23, 2024, protester Maryam Bayramian, held in Tabriz Central Prison, northwest Iran, was sentenced to two years behind bars by an Islamic Revolutionary Court. She was arrested by security agents on June 8, 2023, while President Raisi was making a speech in Tabriz. Bayramian, 45, is a mother of two children and head of the family.

On June 24, 2024, Maryam Akbari-Monfared, imprisoned for seeking justice for the wrongful execution of four siblings in 1988, is now facing a new case in the Islamic Revolutionary Court.

According to her lawyer, Hossein Taj, the case has been filed by the Executive Headquarters of Imam’s Directive, a state body, requesting the punitive seizure of property owned by Akbari-Monfared and her family.

In October 2024, Akbari-Monfared’s 15-year sentence will be completed. However, in September 2023, she was sentenced by Branch 101 of the Criminal Court in Semnan to an additional two years in prison on the charge of “publishing falsehoods on the internet.”

Heavy Prison Sentences for Women Activists in Kurdistan and Gilan

On May 25, 2024, journalist and women’s rights activist Jina Modarres Gorji was found guilty on charges of “forming an illegal group to overthrow the state,” “cooperation with enemy organizations and governments,” and “propaganda against the state” by Branch 1 of the Islamic Revolutionary Court in Sanandaj, Kurdistan province, and sentenced to 21 years in prison (10 years mandatory if upheld on appeal) and banished to the Central Prison in Hamedan.

On May 28, 2024, Branch 11 of the Appeal Court in Gilan Province upheld prison sentences for women’s rights and political activists without a hearing, on charges of “forming an illegal group to overthrow the state,” “assembly and collusion against national security” and “propaganda against the state”:  Zohreh Dadras (9.5 years), Forough Saminia (six years), Sara Jahani (six years), Yasmin Hashdari (six years), Shiva Shahsiah (six years), Negin Rezaei (six years), Azadeh Chavoshian (six years), Zahra Dadras (six years), Matin Yazdani (six years), Jelveh Javaheri (1 year) and Houman Taheri (1 year).

They were arrested on August 16, 2023, in Rasht, Bandar Anzali, Lahijan and Foman in northern Iran’s Gilan province and released on bail approximately two months later.

According to a source familiar with the case, Ministry of Intelligence officials in Gilan claimed that the activists were planning subversive actions, without presenting any evidence.

The activists were tortured during detention, the source added.

On May 28, 2024, the first court session of political activist Pakhshan Azizi was held in Branch 26 of the Islamic Revolutionary Court in Tehran. She has been charged with “rebellion,” which can result in the death penalty.

During detention, Pakshan was denied legal counsel and tortured into giving false statements, a routine practice used in the Islamic Republic against activists. Her second trial session was held on June 16.

Also on June 16, another woman political activist, Varisheh Moradi, went on trial in the Islamic Revolutionary Court in Tehran on the charge of “rebellion.”

A source familiar with the case told CHRI that presiding Judge Abolqasem Salavati (a notorious hardline judge known for handing down harsh sentences in political cases) did not allow Moradi or her lawyers to present a defense.

“Since a month ago, Judge Salavati has denied Moradi the right to contact and receive visits from family members and lawyers,” the source added.

Meanwhile, Varisheh Moradi and Pakshan Azizi held a two-day hunger strike to protest the behavior of prison authorities.

On June 23, 2024, Atefeh Rangriz, a women’s rights activist, was ordered to appear at the Prosecutor’s Office in Damghan, Semnan province, accused of “forming an illegal group to overthrow the state,” “publishing falsehoods on the internet to disturb public opinion,” and “propaganda against the state.”

Rangriz was arrested by state agents in Damghan on September 10, 2023, and transferred to the Ministry of Intelligence detention center in Semnan. She was later moved to the Central Prison in Shahroud and released on bail on October 21, 2023.

Hunger Strikes and Denial of Medical Care

On May 28, 2024, there were reports that two women political prisoners, Narges Mansouri and Lian Darvish, had started a hunger strike to protest unlawful judicial processes and the denial of medical treatment.

A person close to Darvish, a 46-year-old political prisoner, told CHRI: “Lian, who was in Cell 1 in the 5th Women’s Ward in Evin Prison, started a hunger strike because of lack of attention by prison officials to her poor health, especially severe kidney disease. According to one of her cellmates, her condition is serious, but the authorities have prevented her from being sent to a hospital.

“Lian’s main demand is to be sent to a hospital for treatment or be released on sick leave. She told prison officials if don’t they don’t agree to her demands, she will stop drinking liquids as well. Because of this, prison guards harassed her a lot and sent her to solitary confinement for 24 hours to force her to break the hunger strike.”

Lian Darvish, a resident of Tehran, was initially arrested by Ministry of Intelligence agents in December 2017. In 2019, and sentenced to eight years behind bars by the Islamic Revolutionary Court in Tehran on charges of “insulting the leaders of the country” and “propaganda against the state.”

According to a close associate, “ًWhen Lian was convicted in 2018, she was taken to a hospital for a severe illness and then she escaped during sick leave and lived secretly in different cities until she was violently rearrested in February 2024 and taken back to Evin Prison.”

On June 9, 2024, Farzaneh Ghareh-Hasanlou, arrested during the “Women, Life, Freedom” uprising and sentenced to five years in prison and exile, went on a hunger strike for being deprived of medical care in Mashhad’s Vakilabad Prison.

A source familiar with Ghareh-Hasanlou’s status, told CHRI: “Mrs. Ghareh-Hasanlou’s health in prison is not well at all. The left side of her body becomes completely numb at times.”

On June 11, 2024, there were reports about continuing health issues facing 71-year-old Raheleh Rahemipour, in Evin Prison. Despite her inability to endure imprisonment, Rahemipour, who is seeking justice for the execution of her brother in 1984, has been deprived of proper medical care and hospitalization outside prison.

Also on June 11, the Coordinating Council of the Iranian Teachers Trade Associations (CCITTA) announced that Nejat Anvar Hamidi, an ailing retired teacher imprisoned in Sepidar Prison in Ahvaz, Khuzestan province, was denied medical treatment.

Hamidi, who has been serving a 15-year sentence since March 2017, has not had any sick leave during imprisonment.

“The imprisoned teacher suffers from thyroid dysfunction, high blood pressure and chronic headache. She has cataracts in both eyes, which are bleeding due to lack of medical care,” said the CCITTA.

On June 16, 2024, it was reported that Maryam Jalal Hosseini, a political prisoner in Kachuei Prison in Karaj, Alborz province, was being denied proper medical attention.

An informed source told HRANA:  “For several months Maryam has been suffering from health problems, namely kidney disease and needs specialized treatment. However, she has not been dispatched to medical centers outside the prison for proper treatment. Officials have considered sending her on medical leave only on a heavy bail, which her family is unable to provide. This has increased worries about her health.”

On June 23, 2024, there were reports on the continued poor health of Rezvaneh Ahmadkhan-Beigi, a civil rights activist in Evin Prison where the authorities were preventing her from being sent to the hospital, despite being six-months pregnant and suffering from epilepsy.

Women Activists Support a Boycott of the Election

Meanwhile, some imprisoned women activists have declared they would boycott the presidential election, which is set for June 28.

In the latest case, Nobel laureate Mohammadi wrote an open letter from Evin Prison, stating:

“I will not participate in the illegal elections of the oppressive and illegitimate government.…The only purpose of holding elections for a regime that believes in repression, terror, and violence as the sole means to maintain power is not to uphold democracy and the rights of the people, but to consolidate power and tyranny. Such elections will not bring legitimacy to the Islamic Republic.”