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Minou Aslani, head of the Women's Basij organization in Iran, has condemned efforts to increase the number of women in parliament and opposed campaigns to curb domestic violence as perceived assaults on Iranian society and traditional family values.

Minou Aslani, head of the Women's Basij organization in Iran, has condemned efforts to increase the number of women in parliament and opposed campaigns to curb domestic violence as perceived assaults on Iranian society and traditional family values.

The woman who commands the hard-line Basij militia's female volunteers has tried to enlist judges' help to crush any notion of gender equality in Iran.

The woman who leads female volunteers in Iran's hard-line conservative militia, the Basij, has identified a new foe.

Minu Aslani has reportedly called the promotion of gender equality illegal and demanded that the country's powerful judiciary take action against people who speak out against such state-sponsored discrimination.

"These activities are in fact against our laws and the judiciary should take action," the semiofficial Mehr news agency quoted Aslani as telling reporters on December 2.

In the past, Aslani has condemned efforts to increase the number of women in parliament and opposed campaigns to curb domestic violence as perceived assaults on Iranian society and traditional family values. Pushing for greater female participation threatens to "distort" the identity of Iran's women, she has said.

The latest broadside against opponents of gender-based discrimination appears to be a volley aimed at allies of relative moderate President Hassan Rohani, who campaigned in 2013 on a pledge to fight second-tier status for women and is expected to seek a second term in 2017.

At the December 2 press conference, Aslani argued that gender equality was a Western concept that isolates women. "This is a path that has resulted in the solitude of women in the West," she said. "Unfortunately some people in this country are following the outdated Western example -- it is against human nature."

Aslani also criticized United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's eight-year-old UNiTE To End Violence Against Women campaign, which is aimed at raising awareness about violence against women and girls.

Aslani argued that the initiative -- which proclaims the 25th day of each month "Orange Day" -- suggests to women and girls that they should not grant their love and affection to their families.

"Why have authorities in our country given a commitment to the United Nations to achieve gender equality within the next 15 years?" Aslani asked reporters.

She appeared to be referring to a UN development agenda for global action for the next 15 years, ratified by member states in 2016, that highlights gender equality and women's empowerment as a key priority.

Aslani added that Iran should have a plan for women to be active in society while providing "emotional support" to their families. "Alongside social and economic activities, the main identity of a Muslim woman is centered on her role as a mother," she said.

She also complained that unnamed individuals in Iran have designed a questionnaire to gauge gender equality among various state bodies, adding that such activities were also "against the law and the judiciary should take action."
Aslani also criticized Iran's vice president for women's affairs, Shahindokht Molaverdi, who has expressed commitment to gender equality and angered hard-liners with her efforts to promote women's rights. She recently tweeted to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on November 25:

"...[W]hat has the vice presidency for women's affairs done for virtue in society?" Aslani asked.

Women's rights activists have sought to become more active and engage more thoroughly in Iran's religiously conservative society under Rohani's presidency. But they have faced pressure from hard-liners in control of key institutions who believe feminist ideas are a violation of Islamic principles.

In August, Amnesty International warned against a renewed crackdown against women's rights activists in Iran, saying that they were being treated as "enemies of the state."

In recent weeks, reports have said that as many as 20 women have been summoned and interrogated by the authorities for attending a seminar in Georgia on women's empowerment.

At least one of the seminar's attendees, photographer and women's rights activist Alieh Matlabzadeh, has been arrested.

Defiance Thrusts Iranian Lawmaker Into Spotlight

  • Golnaz Esfandiari
Iranian parliamentary deputy Mahmoud Sadeghi has been an irritant to Iran's conservative and hard-line establishment (file photo).

Iranian parliamentary deputy Mahmoud Sadeghi has been an irritant to Iran's conservative and hard-line establishment (file photo).

A reformist junior lawmaker creates a buzz for challenging Iranian authorities -- and facing down the cops.

Until recently, Mahmud Sadeghi was an obscure legal expert whose most conspicuous professional accomplishment was a two-year advisory stint with Iran's Education Ministry.

That changed with the 54-year-old's election to parliament in Iran's tightly controlled elections in February, as one of 133 relative moderates allied with reformist President Hassan Rohani to have won seats in the 290-seat legislature, known as the Majlis.

Government critics hoped their gains in parliament, and in the influential Assembly of Experts, would mark their return to relevance after more than a decade on the political sidelines.

Junior lawmaker Sadeghi, for his part, has been an irritant to the conservative and hard-line establishment ever since.

He has aired defiant criticism of state repression and censorship, grabbing the spotlight late this month as the target of an abortive arrest after he expressed suspicions around the financial dealings of one of Iran's most powerful political figures, Judiciary head Sadegh Larijani. (Larijani has rejected the allegations as "lies.")

Sadeghi rebuffed the security officers who arrived at his home on November 27 by citing parliamentary immunity, but it was arguably the mobilization of supporters via digital media that set the incident apart from other such raids in Iran.

News spread quickly on social media, users shared his address, and colleagues and activists gathered outside his house to prevent his arrest.

The officers backed down, although Tehran's prosecutor has pledged that Sadeghi must turn himself in or face detention.

Sadeghi then vowed via Twitter that "pressure" would not prevent him and other lawmakers from "seeking transparency and fighting corruption in all [Iran's state] institutions.

A 'Glimmer Of Hope'

Judiciary officials and hard-line media reported that Sadeghi was accused of "spreading lies" by private plaintiffs.

Sympathizers including deputy parliament speaker Ali Motahari suggested that Sadeghi's challenge of Larijani was the real reason for the pressure.

A number of Iranians have come out on social media to speak in support of Sadeghi, with some praising his "courage" and another suggesting that Sadeghi and Motahari alone deserve to be called people's representatives in the Iranian parliament, widely known as being a powerless body.

"[Mahmud] Sadeghi is the best reformist lawmaker in the parliament," wrote a Twitter user.

Another described Sadeghi as a "glimmer of hope" on the so-called List Of Hope, a reference to the coalition of reformist and pragmatist candidates ahead of February's elections.

"This gathering, the people's support, the writings -- all of these, the public opinion pressure is aimed at preventing anything from happening to the only truthful [politician] of this system," tweeted journalist Fateme Beykpour.

Attracting Attention

Even before the attempted arrest, Sadeghi, had garnered attention for condemning the arrest of journalists and criticizing Iran's aggressive filtering of Twitter.

Sadeghi was among 15 lawmakers who signed a letter to Larijani calling for a review of a 16-year prison sentence handed down to a leading human rights defender, Narges Mohammadi.

In an October speech to the parliament, Sadeghi blasted the arrest of a "significant number of journalists and media workers" on "vague accusations" -- including alleged "infiltration" by enemies -- that were raised by hard-liners following Iran's 2015 deal with world powers to curb its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

On November 12, Sadeghi said he would work to eliminate the filtering of Twitter, which is widely used by even the most senior Iranian officials despite Iranian authorities' routine denunciations of such digital platforms as tools of the West.

"The filtering of Twitter has no justification," Sadeghi tweeted. "The activity of senior establishment officials and many figures in this social networking site is proof."

Days later, the lawmaker criticized a state ban on the commemoration of the killing of political dissidents Dariush and Parvaneh Forouhar, a crime that Iranian authorities blamed on "rogue" Intelligence Ministry agents.

Sadeghi said neither the "savage murders" of the Forouhars nor the ban on their death commemorations was defensible.

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About This Blog

Persian Letters is a blog that offers a window into Iranian politics and society. Written primarily by Golnaz Esfandiari, Persian Letters brings you under-reported stories, insight and analysis, as well as guest Iranian bloggers -- from clerics, anarchists, feminists, Basij members, to bus drivers.

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