Iranian Women and the Path to a Free Iran

Roya Johnson

Women freedom iranSince Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency, the Iranian regime has increased its oppressive tactics at home. The government is indeed tightening its fascist fist around the Iranian people, particularly women. It plans to segregate Iran’s pedestrian walkways on a gender basis, according to a deputy in Iran’s Parliament.

Early this March, security forces removed several hundred women spectators from an indoor stadium by force as they were watching athletes performing in the 2006 Gymnastics World Cup tournament being held in Tehran, eye-witnesses have reported. A few days earlier, State Security Forces attacked female soccer fans in Tehran after they held a defiant protest against the government decision to ban them from soccer stadiums.

And in another example of mullahs’ “justice,” an Iranian court has sentenced a female teenage rape victim named Nazanin, 18 to death by hanging after since she had unintentionally killed a man who had tried to rape both her and her 16-year-old niece.

Iran’s theocratic government has devised a system that is unequivocally stacked against Iranian women, yet they still manage to organize and confront their oppressors. Stories of Iranian women resisting their ruling theocracy to achieve equality, justice and social rights are very compelling. This year’s commemoration of international women’s day was no different.

On the evening of the March 8th, hundreds of Iranian women took a stand in Tehran’s Laleh Park. Risking their lives, they held their defiant rally and asked that the West not pursue a policy of appeasement with the Iranian government – and instead help the Iranian people to determine their own destiny. They said that their government was spending incredible resources to develop a nuclear program while basic social imperatives go unmet. Admonishing the advocates of appeasement abroad, they said that conduct of such a tyrannical system can not be changed unless the entire ruling regime in Iran is brought down.

The government’s uniformed and secret police forces savagely attacked the coalescing crowds as seen in this video footage of the protest. Many of those participating were arrested and injured in the melee that followed. The spokesperson of the Women’s Rights Association of Iran which had organized the rally mentioned during a telephone interview* that the fate of those arrested at the gatherings could be the same as that of Zahra Kazemi.

Kazemi is the Iranian-Canadian photojournalist who was murdered in 2003, after she was arrested for taking pictures outside the notorious Evin prison in Tehran. According to an eyewitness reached by phone, if authorized, thousands would have turned up in the banned rally. Among the arrested were supporters of the Iranian opposition group People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, PMOI (also known as the Mojahedin e-Khalq – MEK) who were distributing pamphlets and posters, according to a second eye-witness account.

18 year old Nazanin

In an example of mullahs’ “justice,” an Iranian court has sentenced a female teenage rape victim named Nazanin, 18 to death by hanging after since she had unintentionally killed a man who had tried to rape both her and her 16-year-old niece.

As a former Iranian political prisoner I can say that the call of the women of Laleh Park is not dissimilar from that which I went to prison for. In the face of a clear and present threat to liberty, those who are willing to stand up will do so regardless of the risks. In Laleh Park, Iranian women risked all just to read out their resolution and to carry banners proclaiming their demands for freedom and democracy.

After 27 years, the rights of Iranian women have been virtually eliminated.  Consider Iran’s constitution!  Article 114 articulates the different punishments for men and women, for the same crime. Based on Article 114 a male should be placed in a pit and buried up to his waist if condemned to stoning, but women should be placed in a pit and buried up to their neck. In a case where a female manages to escape from the pit, she would subsequently be executed by firing squad, while if the male victim escapes the stoning, he is free to go.

Article 18 states that married women require their husband’s permission to apply for a passport.  Article 105 indicates that a woman cannot leave home without her husband’s permission, even to attend her father’s funeral. Article 209 states that a women’s life is valued only half as much as man’s life.

The cycle of brutality takes the lives Iranians by way of public hangings several times a week. Although verifiable evidence of death sentences and government sanctioned torture exists in the pages of Iran’s state-run newspapers, much of the abuse that occurs goes unreported.

Despite the danger women face in Iran today, they will continue to confront the Iranian regime until freedom and democracy is realized in Iran. As Iran’s leading opposition figure, Maryam Rajavi, once said

“Iranian women must free themselves. Freedom does not come free and no one will ever deliver it to us on a silver platter.”

Rajavi has been elected by the major opposition coalition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, to serve as Iran’s interim president for six months following the overthrow of the mullahs’ regime by her movement.

To be sure, a secular Iranian democracy has the potential to satiate the century-long aspiration of Iranians for liberty and democratic rights. The demonstrators in Laleh Park are part of a larger movement for peace, freedom and democracy in Iran, one which welcomes regime change.

*The telephone interview was conducted by the Global Coalition Against Fundamentalism with the Women Rights Association of Iran on March 8, 2006 in National Press Club, Washington DC.

Roya Johnson is vice president of the US Alliance for Democratic Iran.