Ten years of resistance behind Iranian bars

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Ten years of resistance behind Iranian bars

Soudeh Alikhani is from the Justice for Iran campaign, She writes on the 10th anniversary of the women’s rights activist Zeinab Jalalian’s arrest – on International Women's Day.


Zeinab Jalalian, second from the left.

It is now ten years since the security and intelligence services arrested Iranian-Kurdish political and women’s rights activist Zeinab Jalalian unlawfully. She is now in Khoy Prison in the Iranian province of West Azerbaijan. We believe she is the only political prisoner in Iran with a life sentence.

As a woman and a Kurd, she is a victim of a legal system that discriminates against women and ethnic minorities. It is a system that does not assume people are innocent before they are proved guilty. And it makes decisions for no real reason.

Zeinab is now 35. They arrested her in Iranian Kurdistan in early March 2008. She is a social and political activist and works to give power to women by giving educational and social services in Iraq and Iran. Earlier she visited a girls’ school in Kamiaran, Iran, and spoke about women’s rights and International Women’s Day.

Four security officers arrested Zeinab. They kicked her, tied her hands and feet, locked her in the boot of their car, and took her away. No one told her of the charges against her for months after her arrest. They did not give her a lawyer, and they stopped her from contacting her relatives for a month after her arrest.

The Iranian authorities tortured her. They kept her in solitary confinement, beat her when she was blindfolded, threatened her with rape, hit her on the soles of her feet, and threw her so violently against a wall that she suffered a brain injury near her eyes. They will not give her medical treatment and so Zeinab is slowly going blind because of that injury from almost ten years ago.

They accused Zeinab of taking part in the armed activities of PJAK (The Party for Free Life in Kurdistan). She denies this. They convicted her of moharebeh, ‘enmity against God’, and sentenced her to death. They gave her a lawyer only three weeks before the trial and the lawyer was not even present to defend her.

Even after her conviction, the Iranian government tortured Zeinab to try to get her to give a confession that they wanted to televise. But she refuses to confess to something she insists she did not do.

In December 2011, Zeinab contacted her lawyer and told him they changed her death sentence to life in prison. It took her lawyer several weeks to find out that she no longer faced execution.

They changed Zeinab’s prison at least five times and they did not say why. And she has been in Khoy prison since 2015.

They give her very limited contact with her lawyers and her family. In 2017, Amnesty International reported that the prison authorities refused to give her specialist medical care to save her eyesight. Doctors recommended she have surgery to save her eyesight in 2014. Instead, prison authorities give her eye drops, which do not help.

Amnesty also reported that Zeinab suffers from heart problems, stomach and kidney problems. They said no to her requests for medical treatment. They will accept other requests if she makes a videotaped ‘confession’. In 2016 the UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said that Zeinab did not receive a fair trial by international standards and that she was one of seven people in Iran in detention for no reason.

Zeinab’s case is a clear criticism of the Islamic Republic’s justice system. The system treats hardest women and minorities, the most vulnerable in Iranian society.

On International Women’s Day, let us reaffirm our support with all women of ethnic and religious minorities in Iran who, like Zeinab, stand strong in the face of oppression.