ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) - Iranian authorities should stop harassing and prosecuting women for exercising their free expression, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday.
Iranian state television IRIB broadcasted apologies on July 9 by several women who were briefly detained in May for posting videos of themselves dancing on their popular Instagram accounts.
They included social media stars Elnaz Ghasemi, who lives in Canada and was visiting Iran, and Maedeh Hojabri, a teenager, both of whom had been arrested in May.
On the same day, Shaparak Shajarizadeh, who took her headscarf off in public in January to protest compulsory hijab laws, announced on her Instagram page that a court sentenced her to 20 years in prison for this act, although it suspended 18 years of the sentence, meaning she has to serve 2 years in prison.
Several Iranian women posted videos online in solidarity with those detained by Iranian authorities.
“Equal parts abusive and embarrassing, dragging a teenager before the camera to apologize for dancing is a new low for the Iranian authorities,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at HRW. “Iran’s authorities should stop harassing all those arrested for exercising their right to free expression.”
According to the international human rights watchdog, Iranian laws often disproportionally target women and sexual minorities, such as the compulsory dress code for women in Iran.
Since 2016, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have arrested and interrogated several fashion bloggers, many of them women, who have used Instagram to promote their businesses, often without a hijab.
In March, a court had sentenced Narges Hosseini, another woman who had also taken off her headscarf in protest, to 24 months in prison, but suspended 21 months of her sentence.
On June 13, the authorities arrested Nasrin Sotoudeh, a prominent human rights lawyer who represents Shajarizadeh and a number of other women who protested the compulsory hijab.
“The enforcement of a compulsory dress code for women in Iran violates their rights to private life, personal autonomy, and freedom of expression, as well as to freedom of religion, thought, and conscience,” Human Rights Watch said.
“It is also a form of gender-based discrimination prohibited under international law,” HRW said, adding that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Iran has ratified, guarantees people’s right to freedom of expression, to privacy, and to freedom of religion.
HRW opposes both state policies of forced veiling and blanket bans on the wearing of religious dress, as in some European countries.
“Iran’s ruling establishment has long fought a losing battle against its own population’s culture,” Whitson said. “Yet despite the authorities’ abusive practices, Iranians continue their rich cultural production, especially in the age of social media.”
Editing by John J. Catherine