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Accused of aiding enemy, Iranian women lose voice

Rights activists are jailed, interrogated and forced to wear chadors.

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published April 29, 2007


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BEIRUT, Lebanon - Iranian police shoved and kicked them, loaded them into a curtained minibus and drove them away. Hours later, at the gates of Evin prison, they were blindfolded and forced to wear all-enveloping chadors, and then were interrogated through the night.

All 31 were women - activists accused of receiving foreign funds to stir up dissent in Iran. But their real crime, says Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh, was gathering peacefully outside Tehran's Revolutionary Court in support of five fellow activists on trial for demanding changes in laws that discriminate against women.

During her 15 days in prison, "I tried to convince them that asking for our rights had nothing to do with the enemy, " Abbasgholizadeh said. "But they insisted that foreign governments were exploiting our cause."

The March 4 arrests highlight how women's rights, which were making some advances under the reformist presidency of Mohammad Khatami, are being rolled back by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who succeeded him in August 2005.

Activists say that while world attention has focused on the West's standoff with Iran over its nuclear program, the abuses of women's rights have intensified, using fear of a U.S. attack as a pretext.

Over the past 10 months, security forces have "become more and more aggressive even as women's actions have become more peaceful and tame, " said Jila Baniyaghoub, an activist who has also spent time in jail.

"By tightening the noose on us, they are trying to warn us that they will not tolerate even the mildest criticism, " she said.

Iranian authorities are reluctant to answer specific questions about the treatment of women.

Under Ahmadinejad, Web access has been curbed, almost all liberal newspapers have been shut, and activists say they are under closer surveillance and often summoned for questioning. Ahmadinejad's government is drafting a law to limit female students to half the places in college, instead of the 65 percent they now occupy. It is also restricting women's entry to medical schools, arguing that they put a strain on limited dormitory and transportation facilities.

Women working for the government must leave work by 6 p.m. to get home and tend to their families. And once again, with the arrival of summer, authorities are cracking down on women for not covering up enough.

Fast Facts:

 

Women's rights

Iran's penal code is strongly influenced by interpretations of Islam that favor men over women. Some examples:

-Girls are considered adults at the age of 9, can be tried as an adult in a criminal court and are liable to receive the death penalty for murder. Boys become adults at 15.

-If a man and a woman are injured in an accident, the man gets double the punitive damages.

-Although the legal age of marriage for a girl is 13, a father can make her marry earlier with court permission.

-Mothers may not act as the financial guardians of their children or make decisions regarding their children's residence, foreign travel or medical care. Women need permission from a father or husband to travel.

-Men have uncontested rights to divorce their wives and may practice polygamy.

-Women receive half the inheritance of men.

-If a man dies childless, the totality of the inheritance goes to his parents, not his wife.

-Women can be stoned to death for adultery. Nine women are in jail sentenced to stoning death. The sentence has been carried out once since 1998.

[Last modified April 29, 2007, 01:08:01]


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