IRAN: Ashton Demands Release of Iranian Women Prisoners

Wednesday, July 6, 2011
New Europe
Western Asia
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Human Rights

As arbitrary arrests continue in Iran, EU High Representative Catherine Ashton released a statement on 5 July condemning the recent arrests of women journalists, artists and women's rights defenders.

In her statement, she specifically referenced the arrests of photographer Maryam Madj, film-maker Mahnaz Mohammadi, journalist Zahra Yazdani, and women's rights advocates Maryam Bahrman and Mansoureh Behkish.

"I call on Iran to respect the right to freedom of expression, in accordance with its international human rights obligations, and to release these women and other detained women's-rights defenders immediately," said Ashton.
Maryam Madj, an Iranian photojournalist and women's rights activist, was taken from her home the day before she was scheduled to fly to Germany to photograph the Women's World Football Cup on 17 June. She has long been an advocate of women's rights, especially the right of women football fans to publically watch football matches. Madj's arrest has been challenged by 32 other Iranian photojournalists and the German commissioner of human rights, Markus Loening.

Mahnaz Mohammadi, an Iranian documentarian and filmmaker, was taken from her home by Iranian security officers two weeks after the arrest of Madj. The unidentified officers refused to show a warrant when they picked up Mohammadi. She is reportedly being kept incommunicado in Tehran's Evin prison, meaning she has no access to her family or proper legal representation.

Zahra Yazdani is a journalist for the Asr-e Eghtesad, the newspaper owned by her father. Like the others, no clarification was given for her 21 June arrest from her home. She has had no contact with her family since she was taken.

Maryam Bahrman is a women's rights activist and promoter of the 'One Million Signatures for Equality' campaign, which calls for a reform of the Iranian laws that discriminate against women. She too has being denied a lawyer or any contact with her family since her arrest on 11 May.

Mansoureh Behkish is a member of the 'Mouring Mothers Group,' which protests unlawful killings, arbitrary arrests, torture, and enforced disappearances. Several of Behkish's family members were executed in the 1980s and she has been a human rights activist ever since. This is not her first arrest.

These arrests and others have spurred an outcry from the rest of the global community. Amnesty International is demanding clarification for the arrests, while other groups urge citizens to sign petitions and write letters calling for the detainees' release.

The 2011 World Press Freedom Index lists Iran as a "very serious situation," ranking 175th out of 178 countries for freedom of the press. The official European Parliament stance is "great concern about the steady deterioration of the human rights situation in Iran following the June 2009 presidential elections".

In March, EU foreign ministers expressed their outrage and concern at the "dramatic increase in executions in recent months and the systematic repression of Iranian citizens, including human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists, women's activists, bloggers, persons belonging to ethnic and religious minorities and members of the opposition, who face harrassment and arrests for exercising their legitimate rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly".

The Council then adopted several restrictive measures against Iran including a visa ban on 32 individuals deemed responsible for serious human rights violations in Iran. Ashton's statement yesterday is the first action since the restrictive measures to come from the EU concerning the recent unlawful arrests.