On March 4, 2007, Shadi Sadr and Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh were among nearly three-dozen Iranian women detained after they participated in a peaceful demonstration in protest of the trial of several women's rights activists arrested nine months before.[1] Family members and supporters gathered outside Tehran's Evin prison to protest the detentions.[2]

Both Sadr and Abbasgholizadeh are feminist activists. Sadr, a lawyer, established Zanan-i Iran (Women of Iran),[3] the first website forum dedicated to women's rights issues, and also serves as director of Raahi, a legal resource center for women. She has provided pro bono legal counsel to pro-democracy activists and journalists and succeeded in overturning the convictions of several women sentenced to execution. In 2004, Sadr won the Ida B. Well Award for Bravery in Journalism.[4] Abbasgholizadeh, founder of a civil society training and capacity building center for nongovernmental organizations in Tehran, also edits the quarterly journal Zanan (Women)[5] and contributes frequently to reformist websites.

Both women are involved in the "Stop Stoning Forever" campaign to abolish legislation condoning the practice of stoning adulterers to death and also a drive to gather one million signatures to demand changes to Iranian laws that discriminate against women.

Farideh Gheyrat, one of three lawyers representing Abbasgholizadeh and Sadr, told the Associated Press that both women likely received detention orders on the grounds that their actions posed a threat to national security and represented participation in an illegal gathering. While the Iranian judiciary did not formally disclose the charges, both detained women were allegedly denied access to legal council during interrogations and were held in solitary confinement.[6]

Freedom of assembly is a right guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is signatory, as well as under the Iranian constitution. Though both women were released after sixteen days, their detention highlights attempts by Iranian authorities to equate public gatherings and peaceful protest with unlawful dissidence. Authorities have shuttered the offices of Sadr and Abbasgholizadeh's organizations.[7]

The Iranian regime's overreaction in the face of peaceful women's rights protests underscores how vulnerable the government feels in the face of active civil society and how effectively peaceful assembly pierces the facade of popular support of the Ahmadinejad regime.

Caroline Sevier is research program manager for foreign policy and defense studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

[1] Reuters, Mar. 7, 2007; "Iran: Further information on prisoners of conscience/ill-treatment," Amnesty International, Mar. 8, 2007.
[2] "Authorities Free Two Feminist Journalists but Close their NGOs," Reporters without Borders, Mar. 7, 2007.
[3] Zanan-i Iran website at http://www.womeniniran.org
[4] Women's eNews, May 24, 2004.
[5] Zanan website at http://www.zanan.co.ir
[6] Agence France-Presse, Mar. 13, 2007.
[7] "Shadi Sadr and Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh," Maydan-i Zan, Mar. 19, 2007.