Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Jailed Women's Rights Activist Needs Your Help

Human Rights First:
On July 9, 2005 security forces in Mahabad, a predominantly Kurdish city in West Azerbaijan province, shot and killed Shovan Ghaderi, a leading youth activist and a member of the Association of Human Rights for Iranian Kurds. Press reports indicate that Revolutionary Guards and paramilitaries fired on a group of young men, wounding Ghaderi in the foot after he had approached the soldiers to see what they wanted. After shooting him twice more, soldiers tied his body to a military vehicle and dragged it through the city in a clear attempt to intimidate the population and deter further protests. Shovan Ghaderi's killing has become the focus of mounting protests throughout Iran's predominantly Kurdish provinces.

Kurds are a minority in Iran, comprising some ten percent of the population, concentrated in the western provinces of the country. They are economically disadvantaged and their distinctive language and culture has suffered in comparison to the dominant Persian culture. Moreover, most Kurds are Sunni Muslims, a religious minority in the Shi'ite Islamic Republic. Kurds had hoped for an improvement in their situation under President Mohamed Khatami, but their aspirations - together with those of many of their compatriots who had anticipated promised political reform - were not realized in eight years of his presidency.

The current unrest in the Kurdish region of Iran is the most serious for decades. In addition to protests in Mahabad and Sanandaj, demonstrations are reported to have occurred in towns throughout the region, including Sardasht, Baneh, Sinne and Saqiz. Activities by the security forces in these regions have been reported in the state-owned media. Reports from the region speak of the deployment of large numbers of troops backed by helicopter gunships. The risk of further clashes and additional civilian casualties remains high.

At least three other human rights defenders are reported to have been detained in recent weeks: Azad Zamani, a member of the Association for the Defense of Children's Rights from Sinne; Jalal Qavani, a journalist, and Mahmoud Salehi, a labor rights activist. READ MORE

The authorities are seeking to suppress information about human rights violations coming out of the Kurdish regions. At least two local magazines have been closed and Human Rights First believes that the detention of human rights defenders like Roya Toloui, who are known to have monitored and reported on human rights violations in the past, is a measure designed to prevent news about human rights violations from reaching the outside world.

Roya Toloui, a pathologist, is the editor of a monthly cultural magazine, Rassan, published in Sanandaj. She is a leader of the Association of Kurdish Women for the Defense of Peace and Human Rights. The authorities have refused to legally register this human rights organization and its members have been repeatedly harassed and threatened in recent months. Dr. Toloui is an outspoken critic of the policies of the Islamic Republic and its negative impact on the rights of women and religious and ethnic minorities. Her public comments have brought her to the attention of the authorities and she was summoned to appear before a Revolutionary Court in April 2005 to face accusations that her non-violent activism "endangered national security."

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