According to the Amnesty International (AI), Iranian authorities are using incommunicado detention, prolonged solitary confinement and threats against family members, in order to extract forced video “confessions” from women’s rights defenders detained for campaigning against the country’s discriminatory, forced veiling (Hijab) laws.
Philip Luther, Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International said, “Threatened by the momentum behind a growing women’s rights movement against Iran’s forced veiling laws, the Iranian authorities are employing crude tactics to discredit activists campaigning against forced veiling, dissuade others from joining the movement and instill fear in society.”
He further said, “These women should not even be detained in the first place. It is outrageous that they are now being tortured or otherwise ill-treated to compel their participation in state propaganda videos in which they ‘confess’ their ‘guilt’ and renounce the anti-forced veiling campaign. The authorities should release them immediately and unconditionally, drop all the charges against them and refrain from broadcasting their forced ‘confessions’ on state media outlets”.
Intelligence and security officials orchestrating the production of the propaganda videos are ordering the women’s rights defenders to retract their opposition to forced veiling, denounce the ‘White Wednesdays’ campaign against compulsory veiling laws and express “regret” for allowing themselves to be “incited” by “anti-revolutionary opposition agents” outside the country.
The most recent case documented is that of women’s rights defender Saba Kordafshari, aged 22, who was arrested on June 1, 2019. According to her mother, Raheleh Ahmadi, following her arrest, Saba Kordafshari was held in prolonged solitary confinement for 11 days in Vozara detention center in Tehran until June 11, 2019, when she was transferred to Shahr-e Ray prison.
During her time in solitary confinement, she was put under constant pressure to appear before a camera and denounce the ‘White Wednesday’ campaign.
On 10 July, the authorities carried out their threat and arrested Raheleh Ahmadi.
On July 2, 2019, the authorities transferred Saba Kordafshari to another location and concealed her fate and whereabouts from her family until they returned her to Shahr-e Rey prison on July 13, 2019, so subjecting her to enforced disappearance for 12 days. She subsequently informed her family that she had been held in section 2-A of infamous Evin prison, which is under the control of the Revolutionary Guards, and put under renewed pressure to give forced “confessions”.
In another case, women’s rights defender Yasaman Aryani, aged 24, was arrested by security forces on April 10, 2019, at her home in Tehran. Her mother, Monireh Arabshahi, was arrested the next day after enquiring about her daughter’s whereabouts at the Vozara detention center in Tehran.
While held in solitary confinement for nine days, members of the security forces threatened Yasaman Aryani with, among other things, the arrest of her younger sibling and father unless she appeared before a camera expressing “repentance” for sending videos to the White Wednesdays campaign. She was also taunted with claims that her case had been forgotten by the outside world.
On April 18, 2019, Yasaman Aryani and Monireh Arabshahi were shifted from the Vozara detention center, put into a van and driven to an unidentified location in Tehran, without being given an explanation. As soon as they were taken out of the van, they were confronted with camera crews from the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) corporation, who filmed them without their consent. They were then taken to a room to be “interviewed” by the IRIB and, when they objected, were told that they had no choice but to answer the questions.
In March 2019, the authorities also summoned Zarrin Badpa, the elderly mother of Masih Alinejad, a US-based Iranian journalist and founder of the ‘White Wednesday’ campaign, for interrogation. She was questioned for two hours about her daughter’s activities while being filmed. Amnesty International is concerned that the authorities may feature statements she gave under duress in future propaganda videos, given their long-standing record of engaging in such abusive practices.
Amnesty International’s Philip Luther said, “The Iranian authorities should be under no illusion that the coercive and cruel nature of the video ‘confessions’ extracted from women’s rights defenders and their families will go unnoticed. Any state-controlled bodies involved in the production and broadcasting of these ‘confession’ videos share responsibility for the human rights violations committed against the women and their families”.
He added, “By resorting to crude propaganda tactics, the authorities cannot mask the truth that women in Iran are increasingly standing up for their right to choose whether or not to wear a headscarf in public. They must stop treating women’s rights defenders like criminals and abolish forced veiling laws”.
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