Women in Sudan and Iran persecuted for speaking up against rapes, violence and injustice

Women in many Arab states face discriminatory laws, experience violence and sexual harassment. Sometimes women are even punished for bringing these crimes to publicity. In Sudan the female journalist Amal Habani was sent to prison for reporting on the case of a Sudanese artist who had been raped following her arrest. Human rights defenders complain about inaction of Iran officials as they do not stop brutal sexual assaults in country and do not even condemn them.

On 25 July the Khartoum Media Court, headed by the judge Mudathir Al-Rashid, sentenced Amal Habani to pay a fine of 2000 Sudanese Pounds (about 660 US dollars). If she did not pay this sum, she knew she would face one month of imprisonment. Habani decided to be sent to prison rather than pay the fine, and she has now been sent to Omdurman Women’s Prison.

Habani was one of the journalists who reported on the case of Safia Ishaq, a Sudanese artist and member of the Grifina Youth Movement (part of 30 January youth movement). Ishaq publicly reported last February that she had been raped by three security agents in Khartoum following her arrest on 13 February.

Journalists’ investigation end in prison
Habani is the second female journalist to have been sent to the prison by the same court and the same judge, on the same charges. The sanctions imposed on these journalists show how difficult the situation is when it comes to freedom of expression.

When Habani chose to be imprisoned rather than pay a fine, she followed the example of Lubna Hussein. Hussein is another Sudanese journalist, who refused to pay a fine imposed on her for wearing trousers.

One more female Sudanese journalist Fatima Ghazali from privately owned Arabic daily Al-Jaridah has been prosecuted and convicted of libel charges on account of a commentary she wrote against the alleged rape of Safia Ishaq, right.

She appeared on 5 July before the Khartoum North Criminal Court along with her editor-in-chief Aldeen Ibrahim amid heavy presence of security men and anti-riot police to face charges filed against her by the country’s National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS).

“Red lines” for media in Sudan
The Sudanese government has created a list of “red lines” which journalists are not allowed to cross. The long list of prohibited issues includes national security and matters which are “sensitive to public morality.” It also precludes reporting on human rights violations and corruption.

This list, according to the Index on Censorship, does not have any official mandate, but reporters who refuse to comply risk being punished by the security forces. Journalists face a difficult conflict between following these orders and informing the public.

When South Sudan gained its independence, the situation in the North grew worse. The Sudanese government continues to violate countless human rights without any concern for national or international law.

In the end of June the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said that the Sudanese government continues to aggressively target individual journalists and publications through contrived legal proceedings, politicized criminal charges, and confiscations.

Female victims of sexual crimes blamed in Iran
Female member of Amnesty International Iran reports that she is hearing shocking stories about increasing violence against women in a country where women’s rights are already under extreme pressure. Most disturbing of all, she says, is the response of Iranian officials to a series of up to six separate attacks over the past few months.

One senior Iranian official, according to her, even suggested that some of the sexual assault crimes could have been avoided if the women targeted had adhered to Iran’s strict dress code, or hijab. She brings concrete examples of brutal sexual crimes and blames officials.

“Instead of speaking out forcefully against the crime, the Chief of the Police Detectives Bureau in Esfahan, Colonel Hossein Hosseinzadeh, appeared to condone it, saying :“If the women at the party had worn their hijab properly, they might not have been sexually assaulted”.

According to her, this is a classic case of blaming the victim. Rather than underlining the seriousness of this offence, the Colonel’s comments appear to be aimed at justifying the restrictive dress codes imposed on Iranian women, which violate their right to choose what they wear.

“Iran’s women already face a host of discriminatory laws which limit their rights in marriage, divorce and child custody. In some cases, their testimony in court is already regarded as less than half that of a man’s.

Given these circumstances, such statements by Iranian officials risk perpetuating – and even escalating – the cycle of violence against them.”

She says that such comments by Police may be taken as a signal that rape is acceptable under certain circumstances. And female rape victims may also take it as a signal that their complaints may not be taken seriously

Persecuted for speaking up against injustice
Meanwhile the authorities are continuing to persecute Iranian women who speak up against such violence and injustice.

Two women from the One Million Signatures Campaign, also known as the Campaign for Equality, a grass roots initiative which campaigns for the repeal of discriminatory laws against women, have recently been arrested.

One of them, Maryam Bahreman, was detained after speaking at the United Nations in New York in February. Although a regional prosecutor’s office has ordered her release, she remains in custody and there are fears that fresh charges may be brought against her.

The second, Maryam Bidgoli, has begun serving a six month sentence for collecting signatures for the Campaign’s petition. Amnesty regards both women as prisoners of conscience and is calling for their immediate and unconditional release.

These arrests are part of a wider crackdown against women’s rights activists. If their voices continue to be silenced, there will be fewer people to speak up against such brutal incidents as these gang-rapes.

Five hundred courageous Iranian women recently signed a statement denouncing state violence against women. They called for urgent action to address the recent spate of rapes, as well as rapes in prison, along with other violence against women. They affirmed their solidarity with women everywhere, and with global campaigns for ending sexual, physical, gender-based and police violence, such as those spearheaded by Amnesty International.

“Let’s hope their words are heeded, rather than acting as a passport to prison for “propaganda against the system” as has happened in similar cases,” she adds. “If not, the many Iranian women who are victims of individual acts of violence will face a future with little confidence that the justice system can either protect them or provide redress for the harm done to them.”

Related articles:

Iran urged to free unjustly detained women film-makers and journalists

Iran: journalist arrested, fears for safety and freedom of expression


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