Iran: Lift Harsh Sentences Imposed on Human Rights Activists

17 human rights activists imprisoned after secret trials.
It is vital that a large number of letters are received from all over the world. We especially encourage our friends from Muslim countries to send in their protests because these are harder for the conservative leadership in Iran to dismiss with the excuse of a 'different' religion and 'morality'.
On Saturday January 13, 2001 the Revolutionary Court in Tehran announced especially harsh sentences of from 4 to 10 years imprisonment for seven of 17 Human Rights activists, journalists and academics, who were arrested in April 2000 and tried in secret for attending an international conference in Berlin in April 2000.

Among them are Shahla Lahigi, director of Roshangran, a publishing house for women's books, and Mehrangiz Kar, a feminist lawyer, writer, and human rights activist, who has since been diagnosed with breast cancer and is under going intensive chemotherapy. Mehrangiz Kar's application for permission to travel abroad for treatment was denied by the Islamic Republic Authority.

Previous alerts regarding the arrest of Mehrangiz Kar, Shahla Lahigi and others were circulated to friends on 6 May 2000 from Women's Learning Partnership and Shirkat Gah Women's Resource Centre, Pakistan.

The Berlin conference sponsored by the German Green Party was organized to discuss the rise of democracy and the reform movement in Iran. The conference was interrupted on a few occasions by protesters from exiled opponents of the Iranian government. The defendants were arrested after they returned from the conference, on the charges of conspiring to overthrow the Islamic Republic even though there had been no suggestion that they had had any part in the anti-government protest. All defendants were exercising their right to freedom of expression granted to them under the Islamic Republic's Constitution and in accordance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 19, Clause 2) to which the Islamic Republic is a signatory. Apparently many of the defendants had on previous occasions practiced this right and presented their ideas, findings or criticisms without being charged.

The arrests and sentencing of Ms. Kar, Ms. Lahigi and other Berlin conference participants are clearly politically motivated as indicated by the variation in the sentences for apparently the same charges. The intention is to dampen the reform movement and the public's desire for democracy and freedom of expression, which resulted in the landslide victory of reformists in the last parliamentary elections in the winter of 2000.

Anti-reformist forces have attempted to re-assert their control by banning reformist newspapers and magazines, and engineering the arrest of intellectuals and reformist journalists. Taken together with the arrests and assassinations of prominent advocates of democracy, and the nearly complete control of radio and television by the anti-democratic forces, this has created a grave situation in Iran.
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