Iranian authorities have detained at least a dozen children’s rights activists, mainly women, in the Islamic Republic’s effort to crush a women and youth-led protest movement demanding social and political change in the country, according to a New York- based human rights group.
In a statement on February 1, Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), called on the public, the UN children’s agency and other international children’s rights organizations to urge the authorities to immediately free these activists who have devoted their lives to helping underprivileged and at-risk youth in Iran.
“Islamic Republic authorities are deeply threatened by any independent organization or individual that provides support and hope for Iranian youth, so it’s no surprise that they’re now detaining children’s rights activists,” Ghaemi said.
“The state has gone particularly hard after these activists, who are primarily women, because the authorities want to keep Iranian women controlled and isolated,” he added.
Iran has been engulfed in a wave of anti-government protests since the September death of a 22-year-old woman, Mahsa Amini, while in custody for allegedly violating the country's headscarf law.
The demonstrations rapidly expanded into a movement calling for the ousting of the theocratic regime that has ruled Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
In response, the authorities have unleashed a fierce crackdown on dissent, killing more than 520 people, including dozens of children, and detaining over 18,000, activists say. The judiciary has handed down stiff sentences, including the death penalty, to protesters.
CHRI said advocates for the rights of women and children have come under increased persecution by the government.
It cited the case of Sarvenaz Ahmadi, a children’s rights and labor rights activist who was arrested on November 6, 2022, along with her husband, Kamyar Fakoor, a composer and journalist.
Earlier this month, Branch 15 of the Islamic Revolutionary Court in Tehran sentenced Sarvenaz to six years in prison and Kamyar to a year in prison on charges of “assembly and collusion against national security” and “propaganda against the state” following trials “completely lacking in internationally recognized standards of due process.”
CHRI said it had confirmed the detention of nine children’s rights activists, insisting that the actual number is believed to be much higher: Vira Akbarzadeh, Bushehr; Sarvenaz Ahmadi, Tehran; Mahia Vahedi, Tehran; Saeid Shirzad, Tehran; Laleh Mohammadi, Rasht; Mina Jandaghi, Tehran; Azad Khanchehzar, Marivan; Fariba Kamali, Tehran; Samaneh Asghari, Tehran.
Masoumeh Rashidi, Pariya Ebadi and Sara Samavati, three children’s educational instructors at a juvenile detention center in Sanandaj, the capital of western Kurdistan province, have also been arrested and remain in detention.
CHRI said these activists have had a crucial role in Iran, where services for vulnerable children and legal protections against child abuse are “inadequate.”
“Amid a child protection crisis in Iran, the authorities are detaining children’s rights activists in their panic to silence any independent voices, instead of helping them reach more children in need,” Ghaemi said.
“It is incumbent upon the international children’s rights community to publicly and vigorously support these persecuted activists.”