Friday, June 16, 2006

How enlightened Iranians treat women's rights protesters

Iran -- women's rights demonstration, Tehran, 12Jun2006
Activists and police at the June 12 protest
PRAGUE, June 13, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Iranian police violently dispersed a women's rights gathering in one of Tehran's main squares on June 12.

Activists said afterward that police forces detained more than 50 people shortly after the gathering started. One former reformist legislator, several students, and women's rights activists are reportedly among the detainees. Several activists were arrested and summoned to court ahead of the announced gathering.

Activists say several hundred demonstrators of both genders attended the peaceful gathering, which was held to protest legal obstacles for women.

They were planning to remain in front of a nearby park for one hour and voice their objections to discriminatory laws.

According to the interpretation of Islamic laws applied in Iran, a woman's testimony in court is worth half of a man's. Women's divorce rights are negligible compared with those for men. And women need the permission of their father or husband to travel.

Activists planned to call for equal legal rights in marriage, divorce, child custody, inheritance, and other areas.

They also said that they would read aloud a statement claiming that despite efforts to achieve equal status, women's most basic rights "have been ignored in the Iranian civil and penal codes.”

Authorities Were Prepared

But shortly after the gathering started, participants faced tough action by police forces, who dispersed the gathering within about an hour.

A baton-wielding policewoman (right) and protesters on 12 June

Keyvan Rafi, the spokesman of a newly founded group that calls itself Human Rights Activists In Iran, told RFE/RL that police and security forces outnumbered protesters.

He said they resorted to force to crush the protest.

"[Police] forces -- especially armed female officers with batons -- suppressed the protest," Rafi said. "Between 70 and 80 people were arrested -- former MP Mussavi Khoinia, women's rights activist from Amir Kabir University Leila Mohseninejad, and also members of Daftare Tahkim Vahdat [major reformist student organizations] are among those arrested -- in addition to many women whose name we have not been able to obtain yet."

Despite the clashes, some protesters managed to chant slogans urging that laws against women be abolished.

Some bloggers claiming to have witnessed the scene accused authorities of dragging women on the ground by their hair and savagely beating others. They say pepper gas was used against the activists.