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Thursday
Nov222012

Iran Feature: The Week in Civil Society --- A Health Crisis, A Hunger Strike, and Keeping Women at Home (Arseh Sevom)

Nasrin SotoudehArseh Sevom, the NGO pursuing civil society and human rights in Iran, reviews the latest developments inside the country:


Questions remain unresolved concerning the death of blogger Sattar Beheshti, while authorities deny that any hunger strikes have taken place among women in prison. Iran’s Health Minister faces parliamentary scrutiny for the depletion of medical supplies, public executions continue, and international airfares double. A single exchange rate is announced and Parliament considers a bill that would require single women under 40 to get permission in order to obtain a passport.

Out of Stock

Iran’s Health Minister, Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi, is on the brink of impeachment by Parliament because she has allegedly failed to plan for the results of sanctions.

The deputy head of Parliament’s Health Committee, Hassan Tamini Lichani, said, "Unfortunately at the moment medicine and medical equipment in the country are in great crisis, [and] it can be observed in the shortage of special drugs and the disarray of hospitals.”

Lichani claimed the Central Bank had allocated “virtually no currency” for the import of medicine and continued, “We are always witness to the increase in the construction budget for different parts of the country, but the government has paid no attention to the domain of health and medicine.”

Hossein Ali Shahriari, the chair of the Health Committee, also criticised the Ministry for failing to plan ahead by stockpiling drugs. Shahriari added that medicine for cancer and medical equipment face severe shortages, resulting in a 245% rise in prices.

Are You Single? Do You Have a Permit from Your Guardian? How Old are You Again?

Lawmakers in Iran are considering proposals that will require single women under 40 obtain permission from a father or male guardian in order to obtain a passport or travel outside Iran, Digital Journal reported.

Currently only unmarried women under the age of 18 are required to have male permission in order to obtain a passport, while married women require written permission from their husbands. The irony here is, as Shirin Ebadi has noted, that the age of majority for girls in Iran is just 9, when they can be treated as adults by the criminal justice system. 

And the Hunger Strike Continues…

The Tehran Prosecutor recently denied that female political prisoners had been on hunger strike in Evin Prison, claiming that this was "a lie by the foreign media". Reza Khandan, the husband of detained lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh --- now in the fifth week of her hunger strike --- responded in an interview with International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran:

“The prosecutor can say whatever he wants. The fact is that eight to nine women in the political ward at Evin Prison were on strike for a week to protest against unnecessary and aggressive body cavity searches by guards. My wife is also on hunger strike for over a month now. The prosecutor can ask the head of the Expediency Council, Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani, whose daughter [Faezeh Hashemi] is in the same prison. She surely will confirm the hunger strikes.

Nasrin Sotoudeh was denied visitation by her family yet again, on the 33rd day of her hunger strike.

[Editor's Note: Khandan was allowed to see Sotoudeh yesterday. See Thursday's Live Coverage.]

Blogger Beheshti’s Death Still in Question

Blogger Sattar Beheshti’s death in detention is still unresolved. Among the latest reactions is a statement by the Iran Writers' Association in Iran Emrooz:

One of the main chapters of suppression is the killing of prisoners in detention during interrogation. Iranians, however, are quite familiar with this phenomenon and have not forgotten the conditions of prisons over the past decades. Akbar Mohammadi, Zahra Kazemi, Zahra Bani Yaghoub, Hod Saber, Omid Reza Mirsiafi...and the most recent [victim] is Sattar Beheshti, a labor activist and blogger whose only "crime" was stating his ideas.

On 15 November, a group of United Nations experts urged the government of Iran to undertake a thorough, independent, and impartial investigation of the death in custody of Beheshti --- particularly the allegations of torture --- and to make the result of such an investigation public. The group of UN independent experts also called for the release of journalists and bloggers who had been imprisoned in contravention of Articles 9 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, with authorities providing them with effective judicial redress and compensation.

The experts urged Iran “to ensure that freedom of expression and opinion of independent media is guaranteed and that journalists and bloggers can exercise their professions without harassment or persecution".

The preliminary report prepared by Parliament’s National Security Commission provided false details on the date of Beheshti's arrest and death. Some MPs criticized the non-transparent report, and one said: “We should not bring prisoners into detention vertically and take them out horizontally.”

The head of the judiciary, Sadegh Larijani, harshly criticized the reaction of pro-government news outlets to this case and called their accusations against the judiciary “hideous".

Emadeddin Baghi, a human rights activist and the head of Committee for the Defence of Prisoners’ Rights, published an open letter on his website to Larijani, highlighting the importance of the individual rights and dignity. He said that the insensitivity of much of society and the government to such incidents was alarming and warns of a serious “social collapse".

>Single Exchange Rate?

The Economic Minister announced a single exchange rate for foreign currency to begin this week. Mardomak reports that the new policy is designed  to control and stabilize pertinent businesses.

Students will also be provided with foreign currency at official exchange rates under this new policy. As a result of the devaluation of Iran’s currency, living costs and tuition fees for students abroad soared drastically over the past few months.

International Airfares Doubled Overnight

After a sharp increase in domestic airfares last week, international airfares also increased between 105 to 107%. Kalemeh predicted that such a significant increase in airfares would lead to a sharp decrease in traveling.

There are some 3,000 travel agencies currently working in Iran with more than 600,000 employees, all of whom now face major layoffs.

Public Executions, Again

Radio Zamaneh reported three more public executions last week, in addition to the official number of 18 hangings in just 10 days.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, reported that Iranian authorities executed at least 223 people in the first six months of this year, most for drug-related offenses. Shaheed noted about 670 executions in 2011 and highlighted that, under international standards, drug offenses are not considered capital crimes to be punished by death.

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