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Iran Feature: Week in Civil Society --- From International Women's Day to the Death of Hugo Chavez (Arseh Sevom)

rseh Sevom, the NGO promoting human rights and civil society in Iran, posts its review of the latest developments inside the country:

This week the mother of Neda Soltan, the young woman whose death was captured on camera during the demonstrations following the 2009 Presidential elections, reminds us of International Women’s Day. Ban Ki Moon makes a statement for an end to violence against women and children. Iran’s sociologists report on growing sexual freedom in Iran, while 250 female activists complain about the treatment of the daughters of Zahra Rahnavard and Mir Hossein Mousavi.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran issues a report, which is immediately branded biased by Iran’s media. A new cinema organization is launched --- state-sponsored and with a director who has worked hard to close the independent House of Cinema. A letter to Syrian President Assad from the Physicians' Association leads to its takeover by the Revolutionary Guards.

A message from well-respected economists warns of increased instability if the country’s economic problems are not addressed. Crime is on the rise, and the former Tehran Prosecutor General, Saeed Mortazavi, appears before the court in the defendant’s chair.

The death of Hugo Chavez is cause for (another) day of mourning in Iran.

Women's Day Marked by Calls to End Violence Against Women

In a statement issued earlier this week, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon stated:

Women need to live free of fear; girls need to safely enjoy their right to education. These are basic rights…Too many women and girls face intimidation and physical and sexual abuse – often from those who should care for and respect them most – fathers, husbands, brothers, teachers, colleagues and supervisors. We need to change attitudes and behavior. We need to change laws and ensure that they are implemented. Perpetrators should be punished. The shame of violence should lie with the abuser, not the victim.

The Independent Association of Writers, currently banned in Iran, issued a letter protesting patriarchy and violence against women

It’s a Sexual Revolution

The Organization of Iranian Sociologists has released a report interpreting new data on abortion, marriage, and divorce. They report that 30% of all abortions are performed on unmarried women. This has accompanied a rise in the divorce rate and a decrease in the rate of marriage.

The organization recommends more freedom for young people to choose their own partners.

No Way to Treat a Lady

A public letter signed by 250 women activists protests the treatment of the three daughters of Mir Hossein Mousavi and Zahra Rahnavard. After the pair were finally allowed to visit their parents, who have been under house arrest for more than two years, they were harassed by security forces and threatened to keep quiet about their experiences.

EA WorldView has a translation of an interview with the three women describing the pressure. Narges Mousavi described the ransacking of her house by security forces:

On Monday as I was getting ready to go to work with my son, a car stopped us and several men and a woman stated that they have a search warrant, taking us back to our home. I felt very unsafe. I wanted to scream so people would know what was going on when one of the men pushed me inside the house. I injured my hand and was very distressed by his behaviour. One of them lifted his hand and said: “I will slap you so hard that all your teeth will fall out.” This all took place in front my 4-year-old son…They threatened to kill me in front of my child. When they were searching the house one of the men told me that if it were up to him, he would push me out the window of the building.

HIV/AIDS on the Rise

Iran Emrooz reports that HIV is on the rise in Iran. Dr. Abbas Sedaghat, head of HIV/AIDS control in the Ministry of Health, says that 24,000 cases have been registered this year. He estimates a total of 90,000 people are living with AIDS.

Human Rights Report

The UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran, Dr. Ahmad Shaheed, presented a rigorously-researched report with a bleak view of the situation for those vulnerable to state harassment.

Shaheed gives the Government's response:

Allegations about legal iniquities are ‘groundless’ since the country’s Constitution guarantees that all Iranian citizens are equal regardless of gender, religion, ethnicity or race. It also suggests that claims of due process violations are ‘fabrications’ since the country’s body of laws forbids mistreatment of detainees and the use of coerced confessions; establishes a legal process to remedy violations; and provides for access to legal counsel.

Shaheed holds that the claims are true, but optimistically posits that Iran’s legal system has all the fundamentals required to respect human rights and international agreements.

During his tenure as Special Rapporteur, Shaheed has not been given a visa to visit Iran. Iranian State media has said his report is biased.

Close the Envelope Please

In the past month, Iran held its annual Fajr film festival, this time hosting a conference on Hollywood. The controversial film Argo has been awarded Best Picture at the Oscars, and Iranian director Jafar Panahi --- under house arrest with the threat of a six-year prison sentence --- has won yet another award.

For Iran’s filmmakers, critics, and actors, the closure of the independent House of Cinema still burns. Authorities have responded by establishing the Iranian Cinema Organization, led by Javad Shamaqdari, who was the Deputy Culture Minister for Cinematic Affairs and a leader of the opposition to the House of Cinema.

Arseh Sevom has more on the Oscars, the House of Cinema, and Jafar Paanahi’s award online in Iran: All’s Not Well in the World of Cinema.

Water Policy Leads to Violence

Protesting against the water policy that has left the region without crops, farmers burned several buses in an agricultural area in Isfahan Province. Security forces dispersed the protesters with tear gas and pellets, causing a number of non-fatal injuries.

The farmers complained that water is being diverted from their region to Yazd Province, causing weeks of shortages, while their letters of protest have gone unanswered.

Ahmadinejad Advisor Mortazavi Goes on Trial

Former Tehran Prosecutor General Saeed Mortazavi, now a Presidential advisor, has finally appeared in court to answer for the killing of prisoners in Kahrizak Detention Center in summer 2009. Radio Farda reports that he demanded to sit with the judge.

The proceedings were closed. Fathers of two of the victims were present during the proceedings, and they could be seen in tears during parts of the testimony.

The Physicians Association Under Control

The independence of yet another organisation has been challenged by the Revolutionary Guards. In spite of objections by President Ahmadinejad, the Guards have taken control of elections in the Physicians' Association.

The Guards are sensitive because of a September 2011 letter that the association wrote to Syrian President Assad, reminding him that he is a doctor and that he should not be engaged in killing his people.

To Whom It May Concern: We’re Doomed

In a letter to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, 34 economists expressed their concerns about the situation in Iran, expressing concern over the effects of the sanctions and the mismanagement of the economy.

The signatories wrote that urgent action is required to address the looming economic disaster, noting that oil revenues are high but the funds are being squandered.

Death of Chavez

A national day of mourning has been called in Iran to commemorate the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. In a letter published on his website, President Ahmadinejad expresses his condolences and certainty that Chavez will be resurrected with Jesus.

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