Peter Tatchell on Tehran’s Heroic Women

Read Peter Tatchell’s piece on Comment is Free:

Why is much of the left and the liberal media ignoring the struggle for democracy and women’s rights in Iran?

Tomorrrow – March 8 – is International Women’s Day and the women of Iran are growing bolder and more defiant than ever. Last Sunday, a group of courageous women’s rights activists staged a vigil outside the Engelab Court in Tehran. They held banners demanding: “We have the right to hold peaceful protests”.

These gentle, unthreatening women – armed only with words, ideals and paper placards – were violently attacked by the police, on the orders of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s regime. One woman had her head battered against the side of a police bus, shattering her teeth.

Another demonstrator, Nahid Mirhaj, accused the police chief of “using obscene words and describing us as ‘misfits’.”

The BBC correspondent in Tehran, Frances Harrison, says police and plainclothes security men arrested at least 32 women, including nearly all the leaders of Iran’s women’s movement. They were shoved into curtained buses and driven away. Unbowed, they are now on hunger strike in Evin prison, which is notorious for torture and deaths in custody. Their families and friends have begun a vigil outside the jail.

Human Rights Watch says that some of the arrested women have since been released, but confirms that 26 are still in detention.

Sunday’s demonstration was the latest in a series. It was called in solidarity with five women activists who are on trial after they staged a peaceful rally last June against Islamic laws that discriminate against women – in particular the sexist laws on polygamy and child custody. The five activists in the dock are Nusheen Ahmadi Khorasani, Parvin Ardalan, Sussan Tahmasebi, Shahla Entesari and Fariba Davoodi Mohajer.

For holding a peaceful protest, they are charged with endangering national security, propaganda against the state, and taking part in an illegal gathering. Another four women’s rights campaigners are awaiting trial on similar charges arising from the same protest last June.

Parveen Adalan, one of the women currently on trial, said her lawyer had not been shown any of the evidence against her, even though she has been interrogated five times by the police and intelligence agencies. “They didn’t give them our documents to read, so we don’t know what’s happening,” she told the BBC.