The following is based on a communication written by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders to the Government of Iran on 23 September 2022. The communication remained confidential for 60 days before being made public, giving the Government time to reply. The Government replied on 28 November 2023, disputing the use of the term “mandatory hijab” and refuting allegations about threats of confiscation of property.
Regrettably the Government did not fully address the questions in the communication, most notably on how the activities of the women amounted to “gathering an colluding against national security” and the corresponding two and a half year prison term.
The following is a shorter version of the original communication.
Topic: the detention of four women human rights defenders and members of The Call of the Iranian Women NGO, which focuses on empowering women in disadvantaged situations, such as at times of natural disasters.
Ms. Nahid Shaghaghi, Ms. Akram Nasirian, Ms. Maryam Mohammadi and Ms. Esrin Derkale are women human rights defenders and members of The Call of the Irainian Women NGO who have been working on the capacity building and education of women in disadvantaged situations or vulnerability across Iran. They give workshops including on literacy and public advocacy. They have also participated in campaigns that call for the end to the compulsory hijab in Iran.
On 29 April 2019, Ms. Akram Nasirian was arrested in Tehran and detained at Evin prison. On 26 May 2019, she was released on bail. On 15 May 2019, Ms. Nahid Shaghaghi was arrested from her home in Tehran and held at Evin prison. She was released on bail on 22 June 2019. On 8 July 2019, Ms. Maryam Mohammadi was arrested in Garmsar, Semnan province and detained at Evin prison. On 28 July 2019, Ms. Esrin Derkale was similarly arrested in Garmsar, Semnan province and detained at Evin prison. Both were released on bail on 17 December 2019. According to the information received, warrants were presented for the arrests, but the women human rights defenders were denied access to their lawyers during their periods in detention.
On 4 December 2019, Ms. Nahid Shaghaghi, Ms. Akram Nasirian, Ms. Maryam Mohammadi and Ms. Esrin Derkale were sentenced by Branch 26 of the Islamic Revolution Court in the province of Tehran to three years imprisonment for “gathering and colluding against national security”, eight months imprisonment for “not wearing a hijab in public” and six months imprisonment for “propaganda against the state”. According to article 134 of the Penal Code they must serve the longest of the sentences received, which is three years. Their work for the Call for Iranian Women NGO, including a
campaign calling for an end to the compulsory hijab, is reportedly the basis for the charges.
On 9 March 2021, their case was returned to Branch 26 of the Islamic Revolution Court for review and their prison sentence was subsequently reduced to two and a half years. In the meantime, the women continued some of their human rights activities. In July 2022 they helped promote and organise a campaign on Instagram calling for an end to the compulsory hijab.
The women human rights defenders’ detention, which was originally due to begin in March 2020, was postponed on medical grounds. However, according to the information received, during the four months prior to August 2022, the persons who had posted bail for the defenders were increasingly threatened with confiscation of their property if the women did not present themselves to prison.
On 21 August 2022, Ms. Akram Nasirian, Ms. Maryam Mohammadi and Ms. Esrin Derkale presented themselves the Evin court for the implementation of their sentence. Ms Nahid Shaghaghi has not presented herself for medical reasons. Since being detained, the three women human rights defenders have had regular access to their lawyers.
In the communication we expressed our deep concern regarding the sentencing, arrest and detention of Ms. Nahid Shaghaghi, Ms. Akram Nasirian, Ms. Maryam Mohammadi and Ms. Esrin Derkale in apparent retaliation for their work advocating for the rights of women in vulnerable contexts and for campaigning against the law requiring women to wear a hijab in public. We are concerned in particular by the use of national security legislation to criminalise the women human rights defenders, which would be a grossly disproportionate use of the law against the defence of the rights of women. We are furthermore concerned for the health of Ms. Nahid Shaghaghi who has been called to serve her term in prison when her health remains a concern.