It has been over two months since the start of the “Women, Life, Freedom” uprising in Iran. Despite brutal and bloody crackdowns and unprecedented numbers of arrests of both ordinary protesters and human rights defenders, Iranians have integrated resistance and the struggle for fundamental freedoms into their daily lives. Women are not only at the forefront of protests, and they are using incredibly creative approaches to civil disobedience and boldly defying mandatory hijab laws.
These protests were sparked by the death while in police custody of Mahsa Amini, and are directly linked to the demand of women for fundamental rights and freedoms. The security and judicial systems have tried to quell protests through pressuring and arresting human rights defenders. Scores of women human rights defenders have been arrested since the start of the protests, and arrests continue. While a small portion of those arrested have been temporarily released on bail, their cases pending trial, the majority of WHRDs arrested continue to remain in prison in harsh conditions. Based on credible reports, over 170 WHRDs have been arrested so far, but these figures are conservative as not all arrests are being reported by their family members due to fear of repercussions. Through five reports since the start of the protests, Femena documented 118 arrests of WHRDs, including female university students. The current report highlights cases of 30 more WHRDs, bringing the total of cases documented to 148.
According to reports from the Judiciary, over 2000 indictments have been issued in relation to protests. Investigations have begun in some of these cases. Over the past two weeks, several detainees were tried in public hearings which failed to adhere to fair trial standards, including the denial of the right to legal representation. Many of those being tried are facing charges that carry heavy prison sentences. Some charges such as “Enmity with God” could carry the death penalty, and currently 21 protesters have received this charge in the preliminary court hearing. At least 3 protesters are in danger of facing execution.
Despite the repression, the protests continue across the country. In the face of extreme violence being perpetrated by the state, protesters use non-violent yet imaginative strategies for spreading their message, which encourage other citizens to join them. The widespread use of protest art and creative protest performances have amplified the voices and demands of protesters. Artistic performances, composing of revolutionary anthems and collective performance in universities across the country, graffiti art and creative acts of solidarity such as handing out affirmative messages on small pieces of paper in support of women who are appearing in public without the hijab, are some of the innovative strategies that protesters have used to amplify their messages.
As the protests continue, new sectors of society join the movement, some to oppose repressive crackdowns of the state and security forces, some to stand in solidarity with those who have been violently suppressed, some in opposition to the mandatory hijab, and others to demand fundamental freedoms and political change. In the most recent instance, several famous artists, athletes and celebrities, expressed support for the protest movement or revolution through overt expression of support or through acts of political dissent. Actress Taraneh Alidoosti published a picture of herself without the customary hijab, holding a sign that read “Women, Life, Freedom” in the slogan’s original Kurdish. Other actresses have followed suit.
Through these reports, Femena aims to document the detention of WHRDs following the protests and provide updates on their cases. However, we acknowledge that serious challenges in documentation and verification exist. There is little transparency on the part of the Iranian authorities and most families are reluctant and fearful about publicizing and sharing information about arrested family members.
Femena remains committed to supporting WHRDs by publicizing the arrest of women human rights defenders and providing status updates on their situation in prison and any judicial actions against them as much as possible, and by raising awareness on continued systematic security and judicial intimidations that WHRDs face. We hope this documentation effort will encourage others in the international human rights community to take note of every single individual arrested and follow their cases until they are freed.