Maryam Hosseinkhah and Jelveh Javaheri, Iranian Internet journalists arrested in November and December, respectively, were released on bail this week from Tehran’s notorious Evin prison. They had been held on charges related to their writings and activities, in particular with inciting public opinion, propaganda against the state, and the publication of false information on websites.
The two women, both in their early 30s, are members of the One Million Signatures Campaign, a movement that promotes equal rights for women in Iranian society. They have been contributors on Zanestan, WeChange, and other Iranian feminist websites.
Hosseinkhah and Javaheri were freed on January 2 after their bail was reduced to some $5,000. Originally, a court in Tehran had demanded some $105,000 for Hosseinkhah’s bail and around $50,000 for Javaheri. Their defense team, which includes Nobel Peace Prize-winner Shirin Ebadi, told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda it had pressured authorities to reduce the bail to secure their release.
“We want to ask our judiciary why the two women had to spend this time in detention,” one of the lawyers, Nasrin Sotoudeh, said. “Why was their freedom delayed by requesting an extremely expensive bail? They had to spend quite a lengthy period of time in temporary detention.”
Media and women’s rights activists both in and outside of Iran welcomed the news of their release, and called on Iranian authorities to drop the charges against them. They also urged Tehran to free other women and journalists imprisoned on similar charges.
“Hosseinkhah and Javaheri were imprisoned for no other reason than the views they expressed,” the Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders said in a statement. “The authorities have been waging an all-out policy to deter people from expressing themselves freely on the Internet. Around 30 cyberdissidents have been arrested in the past year.”
One Million Signatures
Several other members of the One Million Signatures Campaign still remain in Evin and Iran’s other prisons. In particular, campaign members have told RFE/RL that Ronak Safarzadeh and Hana Abdi were arrested in October and November by local Intelligence and Security Ministry officials in Kurdistan Province.
Since the campaign’s start in August 2006, criminal cases have been launched against at least 40 of its members. Most of them were accused of spreading propaganda against the state.
At least 33 women were arrested in March this year for taking part in a peaceful protest. They were subsequently released.
The signature campaign says it is a nonpolitical movement. It seeks to present a petition with 1 million signatures urging the parliament to change what the campaigners call “discriminatory laws against women.”
It is not only the signature campaign that has come under an intensifying crackdown by authorities on student protesters, journalists, “un-Islamic dress,” and even Internet cafes.
Last month, around 20 students, joined in an effort called “Leftist Students Campaigning for Freedom and Equality,” were arrested during peaceful marches in Tehran and elsewhere to mark Iranian Students Day.
This week, families of some of the students told Radio Farda that they had finally been allowed to meet their imprisoned sons and daughters in Evin. The first meetings are scheduled to take place on January 5.
(RFE/RL’s Radio Farda contributed to this report.)