Shirin Ebadi: The Collection of Signatures Should Continue with Greater Determination

Saturday 15 March 2008

Change for Equality: With the recent arrest of Raheleh Asgarizadeh and Nasim Khosravi, the number of persons arrested for the collection of signatures has increased to 15 persons. The sentences of 3 of these activists have already been issued. Most recently, Ehteram Shadfar was sentenced to 6 months suspended prison term, for the period of two years. We interviewed Shirin Ebadi with respect to these new developments. Excerpts of this interview follow:

Q: In your opinion why have heavy sentences been issued for the collection of signatures. Do you think that the collection of signatures is a crime?

A: Luckily the equal rights movement of women in Iran has reached a level of logic and credibility that it forces any just and impartial person to accept its demands and even the harshest of judges cannot overlook these demands, by saying that women don’t have rights, or that they should be valued at half that of men. But since it has been decided to pressure women’s rights activists, the pressure is exerted through other venues and excuses. For example, they say that these actions are against national security. They can do this, because this is a broad accusation, but its definition is actually very specific.

The most important issue from a legal perspective, is intent, meaning that an individual must be intent on acting against national security. Even judges who find women’s rights activists to be guilty, fully recognize that the demands of these women are intent on ensuring their equal rights with men and their brothers, and they only want to end laws that allow for practices such as polygamy. These very justified demands, in no way are related to national security issues. But why are judges reluctant to announce that women are being sentenced to prison and lashings for making demands with respect to their rights? The reason is very simple. They are fearful of public opinion. In other words, while the courts are handing out such sentences, they are not willing to announce their true intention in doing so, as this would incite public opinion in objection to such sentences. As such, without even addressing the nature of the crime, and without even addressing the crime in the final decision of the court, they arrest someone for collection of signatures and put them on trial. With the vague accusation of actions against national security, they try to justify their actions as far as public opinion is concerned. But these tactics will only go to justify and further give credibility to the demands of women.

Q: In your opinion, given the pressures activists face and the price they have had to pay for the mere act of collecting of signatures in support of the Campaign’s petition, do you think it is necessary to continue along this path, or should we end the collection of signatures?

A: Not only should we not end this strategy, but we should continue signature collection with greater determination and resolve. Because these arrests and sentences demonstrate that this movement has been very effective and from a patriarchal perspective which is prevalent in our society the effort is viewed as dangerous, justifying the harsh crackdowns. The strategy of signature collection must not change, because it is the most peaceful of strategies and the women involved in the Campaign have never infused this effort with their political discussions, or even their political beliefs, and have only emphasized the concept of equality. Equality of men and women is an issue that even decision-makers have come to accept, at least in terms of their discourse. I hope that one day the Parliament will take action on the issues they speak about.

Q: Recently, the speaker of the Judiciary announced in a news conference that the collection of signatures in and of itself is not a crime but that it may be viewed as disruption of public opinion?

The collection of signatures for certain issues and for some people may be viewed as disruption of public opinion. For example if you collect signatures in support of discrimination and perpetuation of violence against a particular ethnic or religious group, then the act could be considered as an act intended to disrupt public opinion. But the collection of signatures in the One Million Signatures Campaign is intended to demonstrate that women are asking for a revision in laws that discriminate against them. Such a demand, which is being expressed through the most peaceful of strategies, meaning the collection of signatures, can never be considered disruptive of public opinion. Still the arrests, pressures and violence with which they are treating these peaceful activists are on the rise, even though the collection of signatures is not considered to be a crime according to the law. So, why do they continue to arrest young girls engaged in peaceful activism and collection of signatures demanding changes to discriminatory laws against women? Someone needs to respond to this very logical question, but unfortunately there is no accountability on this issue from officials.

Translated by: Sussan Tahmasebi


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