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Women’s Rights Activists behind Bars

October 1, 2018
Shima Shahrabi
6 min read
Authorities arrested Hoda Amid, a lawyer and a member of the Bar Association, sociologist and researcher Najmeh Vahedi and women’s rights advocate Maryam Azad in September
Authorities arrested Hoda Amid, a lawyer and a member of the Bar Association, sociologist and researcher Najmeh Vahedi and women’s rights advocate Maryam Azad in September
Gender studies student Rezvaneh Mohammadi was arrested on September 3
Gender studies student Rezvaneh Mohammadi was arrested on September 3

On September 25, security agents arrested women’s rights advocate Maryam Azad at Tehran’s Imam International  Khomeini Airport, the fourth activist to be arrested in a month. Azad, 31, a graduate of dramatic arts, had boarded a plane to Istanbul at the time of her arrest, and it is not yet known what charges she is being held on. Azad had been receiving medical care for an unknown ailment, according to the Amsterdam-based Radio Zamaneh [Persian link].

Prior to Azad’s arrest, on September 1, the Intelligence Corps of the Revolutionary Guards arrested activists Hoda Amid, a lawyer, and Najmeh Vahedi, a sociologist, at their homes. Security agents arrested Rezvaneh Mohammadi, a gender studies student, at her home in Tehran on September 3. Authorities reportedly searched her home and confiscated a mobile phone and a computer.

The charges against the detainees are not known and none of them have been given access to a lawyer. It has been reported that  the mother of Najmeh Vahedi was allowed to visit her daughter in prison on September 18, 17 days after her arrest, but the families of Hoda Amid and Rezvaneh Mohammadi have not yet been allowed to visit them.

Hoda Amid is a member of the Bar Association and an activist for gender equality. She has represented numerous women before the courts pro-bono. She has advocated for equality in marriage through “equal marriage contracts” and has published widely on gender-based discrimination. Amid, Najmeh Vahedi and Rezvaneh Mohammadi ran training workshops on equal marriage rights and other peaceful activities related to women’s rights, including workshops on domestic violence, in which hundreds of women and men participated.

“Amid and Vahedi did not have any mutual activities other than this educational workshop, which was organized with a legal permit, so there was no excuse to detain them,” a source who wished to remain anonymous told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).

“What the authorities do not see is that you cannot fix everything through the force of law,” said Amid in an interview about the growing rate of divorce in Iran. “The rate of divorce has gone up but can we solve [the problem] with force? We must begin solving this problem a lot earlier.”

Success for us is “Enemy Conspiracy” for them

Najmeh Vahedi is a researcher in women studies and has studied gender inequality in the workplace, and equal pay and retirement benefits. “The extremist religious discourse views the question of women’s rights from a different perspective and basically does not take women’s demands seriously,” Vahedi told IranWire in an interview at the time of Iran’s presidential election in 2017 [Persian link]. “The perspective of the feminists and even the perspective of the reformist coalition has nothing in common with that of the principlists [conservatives]. It seems that whatever we view as success, the principlists — and especially the religious extremists — see it as a weakness and as an enemy conspiracy and are totally against it.”

A few months previously, the Morality Patrol arrested Rezvaneh Mohammadi in the northeastern city of Gorgan for not wearing the Islamic hijab, which is mandatory in public places in Iran. She was released on bail after spending a night in detention and the court acquitted her of the charges.

In the last few days, many Iranians have gone on to Twitter to condemn the arrest of the women’s rights activists. “It has been 25 days since my sister Najmeh Vahedi was arrested and we are still in search of citizens’ rights,” tweeted her brother Reza Vahedi on September 24, just as President Rouhani was delivering his speech at the 73rd session of the United Nation’s General Assembly. Struck by the irony of Rouhani speaking at the UN when human rights were being violated at home, he added a sarcastic comment to his tweet, urging authorities to send a copy of his "letter" to those individuals who had referred to the "'people’s voice’ in the last few hours" — a nod to Iranian officials who took notice of public opinion while attending the UN, but otherwise dismissed it. 

On September 11, the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) demanded the immediate release of Hoda Amid, Najmeh Vahedi and Rezvaneh Mohammadi. “Iran’s authorities think they can stop people from advocating for women’s rights by locking them up, but unlawful arrests will not silence the growing number of people who are standing up for women’s rights in Iran,” said Hadi Ghaemi, CHRI’s executive director.

Najmeh Vahedi is the secretary of the Scientific Society for Women’s Studies at Tehran’s Allameh Tabatabai University. On September 27, her friends published a letter from the secretary of the Scientific Association’s Union of Social Sciences Students to the Minister of Science, Mansour Gholami, asking him to follow up on her arrest. Authorities arrested a number of students after the nationwide protests in late December 2017 and early 2018, and a considerable number of them have received heavy sentences. At the time Gholami promised to do something about the arrests but he never delivered on his promises.

In recent months, the arrests and the persecution of women’s right activists have intensified. Prominent human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and Dr. Farhad Meysami, a civil rights activist, are both in prison for their opposition to the mandatory hijab law and for supporting the “Revolution Women,” who staged solo protests in various parts of the country to express their objection to the law. Both Sotoudeh and Meysami are on hunger strike and their families are extremely worried about them.

Farhad Meysami started his hunger strike about 60 days ago. Thirty-seven days into his strike, he announced from prison that he was beginning the “second phase" of his strike — meaning a dry hunger strike, and that he would refuse to drink liquids. He later announced that he would also refuse to be fed intravenously and that authorities had used violence and forcibly taken him to the prison clinic. It is reported that he is being kept in an isolated room without access to a phone. He has been barred from communicating with his cellmates or anyone else. Meysami’s crime was distributing badges that declared: “I am against forced hijab.”


More on the persecution of women’s rights advocates:

Friends Fear for Activist 50 Days after he Started Hunger Strike, September 18, 2018

Husband of Prominent Lawyer Arrested, September 5, 2018

The Saga of an Iranian Peaceful Activist, August 30, 2018

Human Rights Lawyer Charged With Assisting Spies, August 16, 2018

Decoding Iranian Politics: The Struggle Over Compulsory Hijab, May 1, 2018

Guards Arrest “Revolution Woman” Maryam Shariatmadari, April 27, 2018

Exclusive: Interview with Revolution Woman Narges Hosseini, March 2018

Khamenei Dismisses Hijab Protesters as “Insignificant and Small", March 2018

Anti-Hijab Protester Sentenced to Two Years in Prison, March 2018

The Regime’s Tactics Against Iran’s “Revolution Women”, February 2018

People Want the Choice on Hijab — But the Regime Won't Listen, February, 2018

The Man Who Joined Revolution Women, February, 2018

Iran’s Prosecutor Dismisses Hijab Protesters as Childish and Ignorant, January, 2018

More Women Protest by Removing their Hijabs, January, 2018

The Woman Who Stood Up Against Forced Hijab, January, 2018




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