by Joanne Michele
Some things about the Islamic Republic of Iran’s criminal treatment of women are commonly known: women of all ages are jailed up to four months for failing to properly veil themselves, are legally worth half of a man’s life, have no rights within their own families or over their own bodies and minds, and are stoned to death for adultery. Although executing a virgin is illegal, “marriage” and rape by prison officials seems to be an accepted practice to allow the execution to proceed. [ed note: it is disallowed by religion in Iran to execute a virgin; thus in order to proceed with execution of a women who has not had sex, the woman is raped].
Unbelievably, Iran is a signatory to the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention Against Torture, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Unbelievably, the United Nations has taken no action to hold Iran responsible for its commitments and allows gender apartheid to continue unchallenged despite its classification as a crime against humanity.
Furthermore, the UN does not demand that so-called “democracies” abide by their international legal obligations.
By the UN’s refusal to act on behalf of Iranian women, instead standing aside wordlessly to watch them raped, tortured, and slaughtered, the UN itself promotes state-sponsored violence against women. Stories from both inside and outside of Iran demonstrate the UN’s acceptance of this brand of violence against women by both the Islamic regime as well as by the so-called “Western democracies” like the UK. By bestowing a seat on the UN Commission on the Status of Women, the UN and all of its members demonstrate that they participate in and reward state-sponsored brutality against Iranian women, and by extension, against women worldwide.
Examples of state-sponsored violence against women inside Iran:
• Maryam Sabri was arrested, beaten, and raped four times in prison for attending a 40-day commemoration ceremony of the murder of another young woman, Neda Agha-Soltan.
• In January 2010, 30 members of the Mourning Mothers, a group of women who publicly mourn their murdered children were attacked in a park and arrested. These peaceful women were detained in notorious Evin Prison and showed tremendous courage through the ordeal.
• I’m writing this on the one-year anniversary of Delara Darabi’s murder by the Islamic Republic. Delara was convicted of murder and was executed by hanging. Despite Iran’s signing of the Convention Against Torture and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Delara was coerced into confessing to the murder and executed despite being a juvenile at the time of her alleged crime. On the morning of her execution, Delara was permitted a brief phone call to her mother, whom she begged to save her. Because the regime fears mothers, a prison authority tortured Delara’s mother before they took her daughter’s life; a voice on the phone told Delara’s parents that she was to be killed and they would be unable to stop it.
It is the scope of these human rights violations that has only recently come into public knowledge; the torture does not stop when they flee Iran.
Examples of state-sponsored violence against women who flee Iran:
The story of Bita:
Bita Ghaedi was arrested on 16 April 2010 by Britain’s Home Office and is currently awaiting deportation in a detention center. With a former partner, Bita fled an abusive marriage and eventually entered the UK. Upon her entry to the UK, Bita was held in Holloway Women’s Prison for 45 days. During the course of her amnesty case she purportedly became so depressed she attempted suicide and was placed in psychological care.
Her current partner, Mohsen, has taken the lead in speaking for Bita’s rights as an asylum-seeker. Bita has no notions of safety if returned to Iran. She went on a three-week hunger strike in January 2010, stating that she would choose to die in British jail than at the hands of the Islamic Republic.
Inside Iran, many of the post-election death sentences have been handed down with the charge of Moharebeh, a politically-driven charge in the guise of the religious violation, “warring against God.” Because of, not despite, her association with PMOI/MKO/MEK, Bita is likely to be charged as Moharebeh and is at risk for torture and execution if returned to the hands of the Islamic Republic.
As a woman, she has no human rights in Iran. She is subject to death by stoning if convicted of adultery.
Bita has spoken of her fear of being returned to her family in Iran, saying, “it is benevolent, advisable and godly for [her father, brother, and husband] to kill me [so] I won’t be arrested.”
Despite widely-documented human rights abuses by the Islamic Republic against its own people, the British government is not honoring the commitment to non-refoulement under the UN 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, to which it is a signatory.
Although the UNHCR Executive Committee agreed to give “particular attention to the international protection of refugee women” in Conclusion 39, it is holding neither Iran nor Britain responsible for violating its own document. The number one goal of this initiative as stated by the UNHCR is to provide protection appropriate to women’s individual needs. Bita Ghaedi exemplifies the vision at the heart of that document.
The story of Kiana:
Ahmadinejad’s 2008 claim that there are no homosexuals in Iran will be true if the UK is permitted to deport lesbian women like Kiana Firouz, sending them to their death in Iran. Amazingly, Kiana is continuing to advocate for the rights of lesbian women although she will face certain death if the UK Home Office finalizes deportation proceedings.
Kiana played herself in a movie based on her life, set to premiere in later in May. She was in the process of making a documentary film about the secret lives of lesbians in Iran but fled the country when Intelligence agents discovered her footage.
Shari’a law, which is the rule of the land in the Islamic Republic, permits punishment of women found guilty of homosexual “acts.” The punishment is inhumane and constitutes torture, which is a violation of the UN Convention Against Torture. The notion that sexual orientation could constitute a crime is a serious violation of every aspect of human rights.
Death sentences are common for women found guilty a third time, as was the case with Pegah Emambakhsh’s girlfriend. Pegah fled Iran after her girlfriend was condemned to death and was still denied protection by the UK. She was threatened with deportation multiple times between her entrance in 2005 and February 2009 when she was finally granted permanent asylum.
Another woman, identified as Taraneh, was arrested multiple times and eventually sentenced to death by hanging. Her two-year prison sentence was filled with physical and psychological torture.
The story of Nadia:
Nadia Arzane is a Christian convert also facing deportation by the UK. Despite an active campaign launched to save her life, the life of her partner Bashir Foris, and the life of their their unborn child, they were to be deported on April 23, 2010. The overwhelming stress of her situation may have saved her life, as fears of the effect on the unborn child prevented the flight from departing.
Nadia is showing signs of trauma as a direct result of her ordeal. According to a campaign on her behalf, Nadia witnessed the public beating death of a protester in Bandar Abbas during a July 2009 post-election protest. She was a political activist against the current regime and therefore faces the same death sentence and torture at the hands of the Islamic Republic if forcibly returned.
Her case, too, is a testament to the refusal of the UN to enforce its own legal agreements. The Convention on the Status of Refugees forbids the forcible return of a refugee to a country where they have a well-founded fear of persecution: Nadia’s father was beaten, arrested and imprisoned for shielding her. One need very little imagination to figure out what will happen to Nadia when she is returned.
Coupled with her political activism, a crime now punishable by death, Nadia’s Christian faith is a direct threat to the regime’s chokehold on Iranians’ minds. A 19-year old Christian man was arrested in April and charged with insulting Islam. A 65-year old pastor was arrested in February, tortured in prison, and awaits trial for converting Muslims. A young Christian couple arrested one week later is detained in an unknown location, as are three more Christians arrested on Christmas Eve. The other twelve arrested on December 24 have been conditionally released.
Under shari’a law, converting from Islam is a crime that is punishable by death.
The UN’s fundamental betrayal of women
On April 29, 2010, the UN rewarded the Islamic regime’s violence against women with a place on the UN Commission on the Status of Women. Unbelievably, the UN and member countries have decided that Iran is to be included on the sole body responsible for gender equity and the supposed advancement and protection of women. By this reprehensible act, the UN and all of the voting members present that day explicitly condoned and promoted state-sponsored violence against women.
On the same day, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres called on the 27 countries of the European Union (EU) to set a positive example in the area of refugee protection.
We can see how seriously those member countries have taken Guterres’ milquetoasty admonitions: the UK is proceeding nonchalantly with the deportation of Bita Ghaedi on May 5, 2010, stating in the May 2, 2010 brief that “We do not accept that your client has provided any evidence to show that her life will be at risk on her return to Iran.”
The UN set the standard for how women should be treated by rewarding the virulent misogyny of the Islamic Republic with a coveted seat on the Commission on Status of Women. The UK has nodded in understanding, and is executing Bita by proxy. The UNHCR has not said a word in her defense, once again content to stand by, silently, and watch.
We too may be forced to watch this anti-woman nightmare playing out in front of our eyes, but we will not be silent. We will not just stand here and watch our sisters slaughtered with the permission and indeed the approval of our governments and their international organization, the UN.
We raise our voices in solidarity with our sisters under siege. We make our demands heard. And we will compel our governments and the UN to accede to our demands for human rights, freedom, justice, and equality for men and for women.