In a coordinated effort on August 16, 2023, Iranian security forces arrested 12 women human rights defenders (WHRDs), in the northern Provinces of Gilan and Mazandaran after storming their homes, searching the premises and seizing property such as computers and mobile phones. These arrests, along with the arrests of civic and student rights activists, points to a concerning increase in repressive policies employed by state authorities against Iranians and civil society in the lead up to the one year anniversary of the death in custody of Mahsa Jina Amini, which sparked nationwide protests. According to reports the WHRDs arrested in the northern provinces include the following:
1. Azadeh Chavoshian
2. Forough SamiNia
3. Houman Taheri
4. Jelve Javaheri
5. Negin Rezaei
6. Matin Yazdani
7. Sara Jahani
8. Shiva Shasia
9. Vahede Khosh Sirat
10. Yasman Hashdari
11. Zahra Dadres
12. Zohreh Dadres
News outlets associated with the security forces have addressed the coordinated arrests of the 12 WHRDs in Northern Iran and have accused the activists of “fomenting disruption and receiving funds from abroad, in the name of supporting the families of those who died” during the Woman, Life, Freedom uprisings. The accusations of state affiliated media are thinly veiled as these women human rights defenders are well known members of the women’s movement, with a clear and transparent track record of advocating for women’s rights.
These arrests are part of a larger wave of pressures intended to create fear among Iranians in the lead up to the anniversary of protests. Others who have been arrested as part of this larger wave include Blogger Elahe Askari, arrested at the airport and Bahai’ citizens, Souzan Eid-Mohammad Zadegan and Niousha Badiei Sabet, all of whom were arrested in seemingly unrelated cases on August 16.
Authorities have also pressured the families of victims of state violence as well as families of prisoners. According to reports, families of those killed during the protests have faced threats and pressures by security forces, some have been summoned and several have been arrested in the past few days. As a result of pressures some of the families have been coerced to publish statements on their social media accounts urging the public to refrain from holding commemorative events on the anniversary of the death of their loved ones. Further, on August 16, Narges Sardari, the wife of imprisoned actor and child rights activist Mehdi Etemad-Saeed, was arrested along with her 3 year old daughter as part of the continued clamp down on relatives of detained activists. The 3 year old daughter of Sardari and Etemad-Saeed was detained for several hours and present during her mother’s interrogation, before finally being released to custody of her grandmother.
Additionally, according to reports, over the last few weeks, security forces have been summoning and interrogating student rights activists, and threatening them with arrest if they plan or participate in protests to mark the one year anniversary of the death in custody of Mahsa Jina Amini.
This current crackdown on civil society is taking place while many human rights defenders, who were arrested during the “Woman, Life, Freedom” uprisings, continue to remain in prison and have been sentenced to long prison terms. The systematic and widespread arrests of WHRDs, and intimidation tactics used against civil society, signify an increase in use of deterrent and repressive strategies by authorities. It is clear that the intensification of repressive tactics and the securitization of the civic space, is intended to prevent a repeat of protests similar to last year’s which constituted the longest running protests in the history of the Islamic Republic. The current crackdown also aims to eliminate the voice of independent groups, and furhter undermine civil society, which has been weakened as a result of state repression.
Femena strongly condemns these arrests and expresses its solidarity with the Iranian feminist movement and Iranian WHRDs. We urge the international community, and specifically the fact finding mission of the United Nations, to pay special attention to the repressive tactics used against Iranian civil society and condemn the extra judicial and unlawful treatment of activists and citizens who peacefully advocate for their causes.