Iran: Britain asks Iran to investigate death of women's rights activist Haleh Sahabi

The Guardian & Feminist School

Britain has called on Iran to launch an immediate investigation into the death of Haleh Sahabi, the daughter of a veteran Iranian dissident who died during scuffles with security forces at her father's funeral on Wednesday. Sahabi was leading the procession at the ceremony by holding a picture of her father, Ezatollah Sahab. She died from a heart attack after reportedly being attacked by an agent and falling down.

The Foreign Office (FCO) has joined the US state department and human rights organisations in urging Iran to carefully look into the case.

"We call for an immediate and transparent investigation into her death and call on the Iranian authorities to allow her family and friends to mourn her father and her deaths without interference," an FCO spokesperson said.

Her funeral was held within hours of her death by authorities fearing popular protest. She was reportedly buried late at night in contrast to Islamic customs. Her relatives said her body was "confiscated" and her family were deprived of performing normal religious rituals.

Iran's opposition has blamed a security agent for Sahabi's death, but authorities said she was already suffering from "high blood pressure and blood sugar".

"We are particularly disturbed by reports that her death followed heavy-handed action by the Iranian security forces at the funeral and by reports that the Iranian authorities rushed her burial that night with a limited traditional funeral," an official spokesperson said.

Haleh Sahabi, a women's rights activist, was serving a two-year prison sentence but was allowed out temporarily to attend the funeral of her father, a highly respected dissident who was jailed before and after the 1979 Islamic revolution and spent a total of 15 years in prison.

He headed an alliance of politicians whose activities came under scrutiny in recent years especially after the disputed presidential election in 2009 which gave Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a second term in the office.

  • Saeed Kamali Dehghan
  •, Thursday 2 June 2011 
  • Haleh Sahabi, A Searcher for Equality in the Holy Scriptures, Came to An Unholy Violent End

    Translated by: Mina Siegel

    Wednesday 1 June 2011

    Feminist School: Today, Wednesday, June 2, 2011, Haleh Sahabi, women’s activist and scholar of the Koran, died during her father’s funeral. According to the Jaras site, she was attacked by the plaincloth police while she was walking in the front line of participants in the funeral procession of her father, Ezzatollan Sahabi. She objected to the violent behavior of the police and security forces, who were tried to hamper and disrupt the funeral service. Haleh Sahabi was walking up in front carrying a bouquet of flowers and confronted them and insisted on carrying on as everything had been planned and continue as scheduled. The police forces attacked her and beat her to the ground unconscious. Many women participants came to her aid and try giving her resuscitation to keep her alive while waiting for an ambulance to arrive. However, when she was taken to the hospital, it was too late for any effort to be useful. She died in the emergency room while everyone watched in disbelief.

    Haleh Sahabi was born in 1955 into a politically activite family. Her political and social activism could be traced back to the time before the Islamic Revolution when she was very young, and continued to the day she died at the age of 56. Among her activities, she was a member of Mothers for Peace, the Religious-Nationalist Activists, and The Quoran Scholars. She was also a women’s and social activist.

    Haleh was arrested and sentenced to a two year term in prison in August 5, 2009 due to her participation in a mass protest in Baharestan Square in front of the parliament when Ahmadinejad was sworn in as President. She served her sentence in Evin Prison until very recently, when she was released to visit her ailing father on his deathbed.

    Hajeh Sahabi was one of the few Iranian woman Koranic scholars. She spent good portion of her life studying Quran in search of equality for men and women in Islam. Along with co-authors Nader Ghaydari and Lotfolah Meissami, she published a 305 page book titled “The One, The Peak of Crisis, The Peak of Management.” Her main concern was to prove that men and women were equal and to find a way to convey the findings to the Religious-Nationalist public.

    She believed that when the Koran was read through a woman eyes and when one’s standpoint is to search for the presence of women in it, one would see a picture of woman having a very high position and immensely respected. Their being granted the rights of economic ownership, the right to live and not be buried alive, and the right to refuse forced marriage, are only few of the positive points that happened in the early stages of religion, but they all should find an new interpretations today.

    Haleh, in June 19, 2008, participating in a seminar on “Woman and Shariati” expressed her concerns and thoughts in the form of questions such as, “Is everything said about women in this book universally true? Are they valid for all times and locations? Or, they are just statements which are only true and applicable to certain stages of time and life? Are they still valid and applicable to our time even when in those early times they changed as required by the exigencies of the situation? Is not that true that one verse was even turned into another verse due to such exigencies?”

    She believed that ‘the virtues mentioned in the Koran are in terms of the objective and material life and not spiritual values. When in the Koran there is a reference to some superiority, they are only in terms of their material and worldly achievements and gains, wealth, power, knowledge, and skills are worldly virtues and not spiritual ones. For example, there are verses about the Children of Israel’s virtues or those of the Prophet David, or other prophets, which are historical evidence as to how men in this earthly life could be virtuous, and gain what is necessary for a healthy life. There are instructions for those who are held to possess such virtues as how to live and how to contribute to humanity’s welfare. There are instructions as to how men of power should consider the rights of “others” who do not possess such power, the wealthy to care for poor, the free to be compassionate to the slaves, and men to be considerate of women. Even in verse 75 of Chapter Nissa [Women], it calls for women to fight for the sake of the weak and oppressed, men or women, and advised them to help those who were subjected to injustice. If in most cases, when the Koran has addressed men as the audience of its verses, it was because in those times men were in a position to have better opportunities. But today, those virtues are not limited to men, but women possess many of them as well. It is interesting that in Chapter Nissa it says: “Never envy what one has over someone else. For nothing remaines for a men but those possessions he has gained himself, and for women what remain is only those she has gained and achieved for herself.” These gains could be interpreted as social and legal as well as economical ones.

    The Feminist School salutes the memory of Haleh Sahabi and demands an investigation of her death and the related the police brutality involved in this matter.

    The Feminist School also salutes the memory of Ezzatollah Sahabi, an old time combatant and activist for peace, human rights and democracy.

    Source in Persian: