4.04.2007

Iranians Struggle for Human Rights

I am posting two reports on the struggle of Iranian women and bloggers for their basic rights abused by the theocratic totalitarian dictatorial regime occupying Iran.

Also, I am highlighting the Freedom House's journal on democracy and human rights in Iran, www.gozaar.org:

Freedom House launched “Gozaar,” a new Persian/English online journal devoted to the discussion of democracy and human rights in Iran. “Gozaar,” which means “transition,” recognizes that free access to ideas and information is the cornerstone of freedom. In response to widespread censorship and the closure of all independent print newspapers in Iran, the journal seeks to help Iranian democrats fulfill the universal aspiration for freedom of expression by creating an inclusive and provocative space for the discussion of liberty. Each issue features interviews, essays, political cartoons, feature articles, satire, and reviews of art, film and literature. A central feature of “Gozaar” is its bi-lingual discussion fora.

Following each article is a moderated space in which readers from around the world can contribute their ideas. To prevent government surveillance or blockage of the site, “Gozaar” uses the most innovative Internet security technology to allow readers in Iran or elsewhere free, unfiltered access. Contributors to the webzine include feminist Kurdish rights activist Roya Tolouee and writer and free speech advocate Faraj Sarkouhi, as well as contributors writing under pseudonyms from inside the Islamic Republic. Readers can alsoaccess a Resources Page, which provides categorized links to organizations, bloggers, and resource tools concerning democracy and human rights.

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Iranian women struggle for equality

By Frances Harrison
BBC News, Tehran
8 March 2007

In the days before International Women's Day, 33 women were arrested in Tehran for peacefully protesting outside a court building. Thirty of them were subsequently released, but warned not to mark the day with protests.

Those detained include many of the big names of Iran's women's movement, who are calling for an end to discriminatory laws against women.

It is not hard to find women who have been caused great suffering by the law as it stands.

"This is my son just after he was born," say Forugh, looking through old photo albums in the tiny apartment where she lives alone.

Ali Reza is now seven and Forugh has not been able to see him for many months. When she separated from her husband the judge gave him custody of their child.

"From the moment he came home my husband used to start shouting until he left again," she remembers. "So many times it ended in a physical beating".

She says Ali Reza would come to her defence: "'Don't do anything to my mum,' he'd say. But he would beat the child and throw him aside".

Painful separation

The judge said Forugh could see Ali Reza for up to 12 hours a week, but they had to meet in a police station. It frightened the child so much she gave up.

Now Forugh's ex-husband does not let them meet and even prevents them talking on the phone.

Forugh is worried about the damage it has done to Ali Reza.

"One time he came to see me after some months and I asked him: 'Do you feel bad that I separated from your father and you are far away from me?' He said: 'No. I could see how much daddy was bothering you'".

Forugh breaks down in tears.

Her story illustrates how the laws in Iran are weighted against women: the father automatically gets custody of a boy over two years of age or a girl over seven.

Forugh lost her child and got no financial support from her ex husband.

Fighting for justice

There are those trying to change things.

Parisa is approaching total strangers on the street and talking to them about the legal status of women.

She is collecting signatures for a petition asking for the repeal of Islamic laws that discriminate against women.

The campaign has struck a chord with many Iranian women like Mahnoush who are fed up with being second class citizens.

Mahnoush has just signed the petition and explains why: "I am protesting that in any instance I am considered only half a man... maybe I am more effective than a man so why should my rights be half his".

Her friend Shima has also signed because she says she has seen lots of women suffer, even her own mother when she divorced.

"The right to divorce is really ridiculous. I have seen women go and say their spouse is a drug addict and the judge says stay with him, at least he can support you. The judges do not consider the value and dignity of women. It's disgusting."

Surrounded by fear

Parisa is nervous being filmed collecting signatures.

She thinks plain clothes police are filming us from a parked car nearby even though she only arranged the meeting point at the last minute.

Some of her colleagues have been arrested while campaigning.

Parisa believes the authorities see them as a threat.

"Officials don't want to listen to the women's movement because they think it's something that's come from the west," she explains.

She says the interesting thing is the rich, westernised women are less supportive of the campaign to change discriminatory laws than the poor and more conservative women.

Parisa thinks it is because less well off women cannot afford good lawyers when they run into trouble.

1,000,000 signatures

The one million signature campaign to change the law began with a peaceful protest last June in one of Iran's biggest squares.

Women activists sat on the grass and sang feminist songs.

Within minutes the police beat them and started firing tear gas and mace spray.

More than 70 people were arrested. Among them 20-two-year old student Delaram Ali who is now on trial.

"I am charged with acting against national security, disturbing public order and doing propaganda against the system, and having connections to illegal opposition groups," explains Delaram.

She says she spent three days in solitary confinement in Evin Jail after the police injured her hand in the protest last June.

Delaram is being defended by Iran's best known woman lawyer, Shireen Ebadi who won the Nobel peace prize for her human rights work.

Mrs Ebadi says Iranian law allows peaceful protests, that it is the police not the demonstrators who should be prosecuted for their violent action.

"We filed a complaint against the police. Unfortunately although 10 months has passed no representative of the police has come to reply to the complaint in spite of being asked to attend many times," she explains.


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Iranian bloggers on web restrictions

BBC News
17 January 2007

Iranian bloggers have reacted with anger and scorn to a new law requiring them to register their websites and blogsites with the authorities.

It is being seen as the latest attempt by the Iranian government to control the media.

A contributor to BBC Persian.com, Fariba Sahraie, asked six Iranian bloggers - inside and outside Iran - if they thought the law could be enforced and what effect it would have.

OMID MERMARIAN, BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA

Omid Mermarian was tortured in an Iranian jail before moving to the US

The bloggers who write about politics or culture from a critical standpoint are people who are already known to everybody, and they abide by the law.

There are others who are either unknown or who write under aliases, and there's a third group who write from outside Iran.

This law only addresses the first group: the people whose names and addresses are known.

It is highly likely that if it is enforced, more and more bloggers will go underground.

This legislation would mean that every blogger who is an intellectual, a journalist, a social activist, or who writes under his own name would have to blog in line with government taste.

This would threaten the very existence of many social, political and cultural blogs. Even those that write about women.

Many influential weblogs are already being censored by the government.

This law would result in many websites and blogs being closed down. Or at the very least, they would become increasingly conservative.


ABOLHASSAN MOKHTABAD, TEHRAN

Abolhassan Mokhtabad blogs from Tehran

This law is about registering companies. But there is a difference between weblogs and companies.

The government should trust its citizens and tolerate them.

But concepts of trust and tolerance do not exist in the current government.

The drive to curb the media started with the newspapers. Now they are widening the scope to include the internet.

The Iranian government should remember what is happening in China. Nearly 30 thousand people are currently employed to control Chinese weblogs.

Beijing is spending a lot of money in controlling the flow of information.

This is impractical and impossible to do in Iran. It will also provoke even sharper criticism of the Iranian government.


NAZLY KAMVARI, CANADA

Well, I have been trying to call the Iranian embassy in Ottowa to ask how I can register my weblog.

There was no answer and I got worried, because I really don't want to do anything illegal.

Seriously, there is no legal or practical foundation for this law. Even in north America there is still no law governing the internet.

Ensuring free dialogue can take place is one of the first conditions of restoring democracy. This law is diametrically opposed to that, even if it is being presented in an innocent way.

And anyway, what is the budget for this and how many people will be checking the websites every day?

Enforcing this law will officially put Iran on the list of the countries which are enemies of the internet.

Pro-democracy groups will find more reasons to criticise the Iranian government.


PARISTOO DOCOUHAKY, TEHRAN

It strikes me that getting rid of all sorts of private media is one of the objectives of this government.

Look at the newspapers. Every day you see fewer and fewer exclusive news stories.

Do you know why? It's because government officials don't welcome reporters.

At the moment, websites are the only outlet for those who care about freedom of information and for those who work in news.

Ministers want to limit and control websites, because they want to get rid of the media.

They have not given the issue any real thought, because destroying the media is tantamount to destroying the government.

Is this practical? It would be too optimistic to say it's not possible to restrict websites.

Just look at China. There, no stone is left unturned in the quest for media control.


SHAYAN MASHATIAN, TORONTO

Is the government - as the institution in charge of our society - entitled to impose such control over websites?

We all know that the drive to control the media began with radio [in the 1930s, the Iranian government said people had to get a permit before they could own a radio set] and has continued as far as satellite TV. The internet is the next step.

When the services on mobile phones become more popular, the same approach will be taken towards things like SMS texts.

This law can only be enforced on bloggers who have their own domain name.

If it's followed through, it will be yet another impractical and unenforceable law to add to those we already have.

And all this is irrespective of whether we actually agree with the law.


HASSAN ZAREZADEH ARDESHIR, CANADA

The plan is fundamentally flawed and is drawn up by people who know nothing about telecommunications.

Any attempt to limit the internet will backfire.

When video machines were banned in Iran, everyone tried to get one to use at home.

The restriction of information is taking place in our country, even though it hasn't worked in the past.

Do you remember when Mr Gharazi was the Minister for telecommunications? [In the late 1980s and early 1990s] He called on everyone with a fax machine register it at the post office. That didn't work either.


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