In Iran, a woman cannot watch a volleyball match?

Published: November 13, 2014
Email

Reyhaneh Jabbari (left) was executed for defending herself from rape. While Ghoncheh Ghavami (right) is sentenced to prison for watching a mens volleyball game.

The two recent alarming incidents of women rights abuse in Iran has awestruck the entire world, and yes, as cynical as it may sound, like all the other stories, these two shall be forgotten soon as well. One woman named Reyhaneh Jabbari gets executed for murdering her alleged rapist and the other British-Iranian woman, Ghoncheh Ghavami has been sentenced to one year in prison for watching a volley ball match.

Yes, watching a “volley ball” match is a crime in Iran. The authorities deny this to be the reason for her detention and are accusing her of “spreading propaganda against the state”. Yes ladies and gentlemen, pretexts as vague as this or “insulting legal or real persons who are lawfully respected”, use of “suspicious sources” or sources criticising the government are sufficient to throw anyone behind bars, stripping them of their civil liberties and fundamental human rights. It’s events like these when even Pakistan seems like a heaven for women. The entire international community is alarmed at these gross and flagrant violations of human rights. For instance Amnesty International has recorded that in 2012, Iran carried out more than 544 executions, second in number only to China, with at least 63 executions were carried out in public.

However, while denying that she has been detained for reasons relating to the sporting event, Iran police chief, General Esmail Ahmadi Moghaddam said it was “not yet in the public interest” for men and women to attend such events together.

“The police are applying the law,” he said at the time.

The ban on sporting events came in 1979, post the Iranian revolution, when it was decided that free mixing of sexes be strictly controlled.

The stories of Ghavami and Reyhaneh reminds one of Mariam and Laila from ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ by Khaled Hosseini where a character named Mullah Faizullah , Mariam’s Quran teacher tells her

“God’s words will never betray you, my girl.”

These words which were quoted to her in her childhood resonate in her memory, even at the moment of her execution, which comforts her that God is Merciful and Forgiving, unlike the God represented by the Taliban. And Reyaneh left the world with the same hope that God shall do justice, in her letter where she writes to her mother,

“Dear soft-hearted Sholeh, in the other world it is you and me who are the accusers and others who are the accused. Let’s see what God wants.”

Khaled’s Mariam left the world on her own terms, so did Reyhaneh.

Mariam lost all hope in life and took an extreme step like killing her own abusive husband, so did Reyhaneh who had no choice but to kill the man who was sexually assaulting her. Both women met the same fate; execution regardless of the circumstances of the crime and both women proved that they are equal to a thousand splendid suns in their own way.

It would not be wrong to compare the plight of Afghan women in Hosseini’s novel under the Taliban rule with the prevalent condition of women rights under the “democratic” government of Iran. They were treated as insignificant creatures, shunned behind the closed doors of their houses where they are physically and mentally abused, their worth calculated in terms of bearing children, the male ones that is, and without any role in the decision making process affecting their lives and future. The cinemas and theatres were closed after the Taliban came into power, and women were punished for walking alone or being neglectful of wearing burqas in public.

Iran is substantially doing the same thing by incarcerating women for watching volley ball matches and depriving women of any form of entertainment in public life altogether. Though there is no denying the fact that in an Islamic country, public morals and decency carry immense significance, but not at the cost of a naked and blind usurpation of fundamental freedoms and liberties, that too without any due process of law or punishments not corresponding with the alleged offence.

It is worth noticing that Article 3 of the Iranian Constitution provides for,

“The abolition of all forms of undesirable discrimination and the provision of equitable opportunities for all, in both the material and intellectual spheres; and securing the multifarious rights of all citizens, both women and men, and providing legal protection for all, as well as the equality of-all before the law.”

So the question arises that, how exactly is depriving half the population of its civil liberties not discriminatory?

The role of Iranian leaders is not satisfactory either. In 2006, former President Mahmood Ahmedinijad uplifted this ban by noting that women and families help bring “morality” and “chastity” to public life. But this attracted widespread criticism from the religious right and now even the female legislators either use an apologetic tone or condone this ban.

However, authorities like Mr Mohammad Javad Larijani, secretary general of Iran’s High Council for Human Rights insists that great progress has been made in the past four years. Similarly, President Rouhani responds to the criticisms by insisting that the judicial system is independent. This, however, is not the case as the supreme leader directly appoints the head of the judiciary and senior judges.

It is about time that the world stands united for the Reyhanehs and Ghavamis of Iran, who have been denied their civil liberties and due process of law for offences which are either not even considered as a moral turpitude; watching a volley ball match, let alone a crime in the rest of the world and for offences committed in self-defence or provocation, which are considered as defences even to murder in other jurisdictions. The international community must exert more pressure to stop these gross and flagrant violations of human rights in Iran. More than the outside world, it is the people of Iran who collectively have to fight for their rights, heralding a vanguard of a true democracy comprised on the pedestal of human emancipation.

Ayesha Siddique Khan

Ayesha Siddique Khan

A barrister at law from Lincoln's Inn London and has LLM in International Protection of Human Rights Law from University of London.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.