Esha Momeni was released on $200,000 bail (deed to her family's house) from Evin prison in Tehran on Monday November 10 at 5 pm, according to the the weblog that has been setup in her support. According to the deputy general prosecutor of Tehran, Hasan Hadad,the charge against Esha is "propaganda against the state". Esha Momeni, a graduate student at California State University Northridge, and a volunteer in the One Million Signatures Campaign had been kept in solitary confinement since October 15.
Interview with Shirin Ebadi
Source: Dr. Shirin Ebadi: "The Entire Process of Esha Momeni's Arrest Has Been Illegal"
Change for Equality (November 8, 2008) -Pressure on women's rights activists has intensified. Esha Momeni was arrested on October 15th while driving on the Modarres Highway and was transferred to Evin Prison. To date, no clear and specific explanation has been provided. On October 19th, security officers carrying investigation and arrest warrants entered the home of Parastoo Allahyai and searched her home. On October 26th, Susan Tahmassebi was not allowed to leave the country and her passport was confiscated. Last week, the final decisions on charges against Zeynab Payghambarzadeh and Rezvan Moghaddam, two activists of the One Million Signatures Campaign, were announced. Zohreh Assadpour, one of the Campaign volunteers in Rasht, was rejected from entering Azad University... And these kinds of events continue... It is interesting to note that contrary to the inappropriate actions of the security agents, the women's rights activists, volunteers, and their families are urged to remain silent and to refrain from publicizing the news. We conducted an interview with Dr. Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and a member of the Human Rights Defenders Foundation.
Q: In recent days we have seen how repression of women's rights activists has been stepped up, and especially that the pressure is rising on the One Million Signatures Campaign; this new wave of attacks on women's rights activists that began with Esha Momeni's arrest continues. Many human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, published statements concerning this issue. What is your analysis of the situation? And in general, does talking about people who are arrested make things worse for them?
Dr. Ebadi: I have always said that in our interaction with any government, we are limited only through the laws. If things are carried out lawfully, why shouldn't we talk about them? If [the officials] did not follow the law and they have done things illegally, and they are worried about being exposed, the question is why has the law been ignored. I do not accept, under any circumstance, that when a person gets arrested, we should not talk about the manner of the arrest and the procedure that has followed the arrest because we wrongly assume that we are worsening the prisoner's situation. When dealing with prison and court officials, we are limited only by the law. The law does not forbid a family or an attorney from talking about the arrestee. So if sensitivity exists concerning talking and interviewing about an arrest, we must say this sensitivity is misplaced, and if it is objected that our interview can be misused by the enemy, then I have to repeat that we are limited only by the law. If the law is respected and followed, the enemy can not do anything. If the government breaks the law, the question we should put to them is, "why did you carry out an illegal act?". My question is: how come when they arrest a thief and burglar every single newspaper covers the details of this arrest and the court procedure, and they are proud of that? They are right perhaps to be proud, they have arrested a criminal and with her/his arrest society is safer. But what is the message when a person is arrested and the officials advise the media not to address the issue? Those who give such advice must answer this question.
Q: Do you believe interviewing women's rights activists, in their homes and with their permission, and recording some of those interviews with a video camera, is a crime?
Dr. Ebadi: Basically the first step is that this arrest [Esha's arrest] was an illegal arrest and the obtainment of the videotapes and other materials was against the criminal investigation regulations, therefore using these tapes as evidence of crime does not have any legal basis.
As for Esha Momeni's case, I have to tell you that she is one of the clients of our firm, the Center for the Defenders of Human Rights, and Mr. Mohammad Ali Dadkhah is her instructed attorney. He has constantly made requests to the officials that he be allowed to visit his client, but he has been denied. They haven't even let him look at her case files. All of these procedures are illegal. The minute a person is in custody s/he should be allowed to have contact with her/his attorney.
Q: What is worrying here is that the authorities seem to want to radicalize the women's rights movement. And the tolerance that women's rights activists have shown towards the state did not lead to a reciprocal tolerance towards the women's rights activists, and confrontations against them have become more violent. What do you think women's rights activists should do about these confrontations?
Dr. Ebadi: As you know very well, the One Million Signatures Campaign is the most peaceful way of criticizing the discriminatory laws against women. No-one can use these laws to control a society in which the number of educated women is greater than that of men. It is natural that society demands changes to these discriminatory laws and opposes them. Fortunately the women's rights activists in this campaign have based their efforts on rationality and they always use peaceful methods to communicate with the authorities. But the Islamic Revolutionary Courts have little tolerance and as we see the women's rights activists are being accused of treason against their country and acting against national security. I have always given this example: the United States won't attack Iran because a woman does not want her husband to take a second wife, or because a woman is asking to have the same legal rights as her brothers. What kind of logic is behind their arguments? It is unfortunate that women's rightful demands for change for equality are not tolerated by the courts and other judicial sources. I hope the authorities come to realize that with more tolerance matters will improve.
Q: Sussan Tahmasebi was banned from leaving the country and her passport has been taken away from her. Her home has also been searched and many of her personal files taken away. She has been interrogated twice since then. The house of Parastou Allah-Yari, another women's rights activist, was also searched in this manner. These arrests, interrogations and prohibitions from leaving the country happen while they ask the media not to publish any news about these cases. They do many illegal and controversial things and yet they expect the atmosphere to remain quiet and calm. What is your view of this contradiction?
Dr. Ebadi: We do not have "prohibition from leaving or entering the country" as a punishment in Iranian law. When they call a person for interrogation and there is a case against her/him, she can post bail in the form of money, or another person can sign to release the accused. And as long as the person is back in time for her/his court date, he or she is free even to leave the country. In the case where she does not return, the bail will go to the government. So legally no-one can be banned from leaving the county as a punishment, unless they add this in the court. When an official engages in an illegal act, it is inevitable that this should be reflected in society.
Those who are unhappy with the current law, naturally object to it, and objections and criticism do not happen inside one's home, they happen in seminars and talks and in the media. So if officials don't want something to be said, they should address the issue in a legal manner. What has happened to Ms. Tahmasebi does not have any legal basis.
Q: This problem, the forbidding of women's rights activists and of other civil, social and political activists from leaving the country, has arisen time and time again. What do you see as the reason behind this?
Dr. Ebadi: Unfortunately censorship has existed in Iran even before the Islamic Revolution, under the Shah's regime. Permission is required from the Ministry of Islamic Guidance for every book that is published. And we know that some books never receive such permission. Moreover, this censorship is so widespread with respect to the legal system that it is illegal to criticise Iran's constitution in magazines and newspapers. This is really interesting that one cannot talk about one's country's constitution. In reality, unfortunately the limits are increasing every day. One of the examples of the increase in censorship is the filtering of women's rights websites. But since women who want equality are persistent, they have begun to pursue their demands even in the context of small family gatherings. These family gatherings are not safe from the illegal methods used by officials. For example, Ms. Khadijeh Moghadam and her husband were illegally arrested because of a gathering in their home. On the other hand, Iranian women's rights activists participate in international conferences outside Iran and they voice their struggles towards equality. In these international human rights conferences, of course they don't say anything different from what they say in Iran. But since the media inside Iran cannot reflect their demands and activities, they get better coverage outside Iran and people get to know about them and their activities. So banning equal rights activists from leaving Iran is one form of censorship, so the activists cannot reflect and share their views. The same thing happened with my trip to Malaysia. I was invited a year ago to give a talk in an international seminar in an academic setting. I accepted the invitation and I had scheduled my trip. Just before I left for the seminar I received a letter that informed me that I cannot give a talk, but that I can go and participate as an audience member. They had canceled my talk and the letter from the foreign ministry of Malaysia to the organizers was attached to this. In this letter it was said that "Iran's government sees Ms. Ebadi as an opposition figure; she criticizes Iran in a westernized manner, and her speech may therefore damage the relationship between Iran and Malaysia. We strongly advise you to cancel her talk." This letter was from the Malaysian Foreign Ministry and I received it from the organizers of the seminar. Of course many human rights NGOs in Malaysia and South-East Asia protested against this decision and some withdrew from the conference. As a result the Foreign Ministry of Malaysia changed their position and denied ever writing this letter. Of course I did not think it right to go there anyway given the circumstances. All this shows that a great deal of censorship takes place. And the bottom line is that censorship limits freedom of speech.
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