Through her bloody death on June 20, 2009, Neda Agha-Soltan, 26, galvanized the Iranian opposition protests. But she was not the first woman to play an important role in promoting freedom, democracy, and equality in Iran. The Iranian women’s movement has a proud history of fighting for women’s rights and has been a driving force behind the green movement’s push for reform. Nobel Laureate, Shirin Ebadi, a prominent human rights lawyer and activist of many years, has represented many other women fighting for justice. Women’s groups like Mothers for Peace and the One Million Signatures Campaign are grassroots Iranian women’s organizations promoting peace and gender equality in law and practice. For years now, members have been beaten, harassed, arrested, and imprisoned for their work.
Authorities have systematically denied women permits to hold peaceful protests and while pressure on women leaders was increasing even before the broader protests began in June 2009 things have deteriorated further since. Women human rights defenders like Shadi Sadr, a lawyer who has campaigned against stoning and Shiva Nazar Ahari, a member of the Committee of Human Rights Reporters, as well as journalists and bloggers like Hengemeh Shahidi, Zhila Bani Yaghoub and a pregnant Mahsa Amr-Abadi were all arrested and imprisoned after the post-election protests began last June. Many other women from ethnic and religious minority groups have been detained and persecuted across the country after joining forces across ethnic and religious divides to stand for freedom.
My post here last month appealed to Secretary Clinton to emphasize human rights and freedom of expression in her speech on Internet freedom. She did and Iran was even highlighted. It was a good speech that also included the importance of online interaction for religious freedom. Secretary Clinton’s longstanding support for women’s issues is also well known. Iranian authorities censor dozens of websites and blogs, especially those covering women’s issues, are disrupting communication technology today as protests mount, and have banned Google. They also severely persecute religious minorities, especially the Baha’i. Iran thus poses a diplomatic challenge as all the themes of the Secretary’s speech come together there. But as protests are invigorated today, the United States must throw its support squarely behind the Iranian people, especially women seeking peaceful democratic change. This could be by making a strong and clear Presidential statement (or better yet an Obama webcast in Farsi), by naming and shaming perpetrators of the arrests, rape, and execution of political prisoners, or by turning some U.S. government websites green. Whatever is done, it’s time to choose sides. One thing is certain. I’m voting green.
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