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Iran: Kurdish Women's Rights Activist Claims She Was Tortured In Prison

By Golnaz Esfandiari and Farin Assemi Roya Toloui before her arrest (Courtesy Photo) Roya Toloui, a prominent Iranian Kurdish women's rights activist, who was recently released from prison on bail, says she was tortured and forced to make confessions while confined. Toloui, the editor in chief of the monthly "Rasan" magazine and the founder of the Association of the Kurdish Women Supporting Peace in Kurdistan, was arrested last August following unrest in several Iranian Kurdish cities. The charges against her include "acting against national security" and "disturbing public order." Toloui told Radio Farda that Iran's Islamic establishment should be condemned because of serious human-rights abuses.

PRAGUE, 30 January 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Roya Toloui and several other Kurdish human-rights activists were jailed following protests in several Kurdish cities against the killing of a young Kurdish activist, Shivan Qaderi, by Iranian security agents in July.

"Its very difficult for me to talk about [what I went through. I'm partly worried that women who are actively involved in the women's movement would fear that they could face torture in case of arrest. But my message to all Iranian women who fight for their rights is that their struggle should [continue] with courage."

Qaderi Protest

Protestors had called on the government to arrest Qaderi's killers and put them on trial. During some of the protests government buildings and offices were attacked. Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that during the protests government forces killed at least 17 people. Many others were arrested.

In August, HRW called on the Iranian government to conduct a full and impartial investigation into the "violent response " to the protests in Kurdish cities. HRW said that the government opened fire on demonstrators protesting the killing of Qaderi.

Local journalists and activists, including Toloui, had reportedly criticized the wave of repression that followed the unrest.
Toloui who had been summoned to court on several occasions in connection with her human-rights work, and was arrested in her home in Sanandaj on 2 August.

Human Rights First, a U.S.-based rights group which campaigned for the release of Toloui, describes her as a vocal critic of the Iran government's policies on minority and gender issues. The Writers in Prison Committee of the International PEN had also expressed serious concern about Toloui's arrest and called for her release.

She was released in October after having spent more than two months in prison, including 17 days in solitary confinement, she said.

Charged With Several Crimes

She told Radio Farda in a 27 January interview that authorities brought many charges against her ranging from "acting against Iran's national interest " to " disturbing public order."

"In total they brought [at least 10] charges against me," she said. "Anything not considered a crime against others was a crime when it came to me, for example the publication of my book in the Kurdish language in Iraq's [Al-Sulaymaniyah] was considered a crime. There were other charges, the most important of which is acting against national security and also giving interviews to different foreign radio stations was considered propagating lies against the establishment."

Toloui, who is currently outside Iran, added that her interrogators were putting pressure on her to confess that she was one of the main organizers of the protests that erupted in the wake of Qaderi's murder in Sanandaj and other Kurdish cities.

"They wanted me to make a [written] confession, they were forcing me to confess," Toloui said. "I wrote that I will speak only in the presence of my lawyer and they laughed at me. I wrote that this is against human rights and that I had the right to see my lawyer. They lost their patience and they ordered that my children should be brought in and they threatened me and said that they will burn my children alive in front of my eyes."

Torture Claims

Toloui added that she was also subjected to physical torture that included beatings. She did not want to elaborate. Her claims of torture cannot be independently verified.

"During the night of 6 August, Kurdistan's deputy prosecutor, Amiri (no first name available), personally tortured me in the most brutal ways and subjected me to such behaviors that cannot be expressed," she said.

Toloui told Radio Farda that she was later transferred to a prison where convicted murderers and drug traffickers are held. She claims the transfer was a move aimed at putting her under more pressure. But she added that despite her difficult time in jail she refuses to be silenced.

She says the international community is focusing its attention on Iran's controversial nuclear activities while more attention should be paid to human rights abuses that are occurring inside the country.

"I was tortured and I want to complain about it to all of the world's human rights organizations," she said. "I say the Islamic Republic should not be taken to the UN Security Council only because of its nuclear issue but our main problem -- the main issue of the Iranian people -- is the abuse of their rights and pressure from the regime."

Toloui is one of the signatories of a letter signed and published last year by women's rights groups, personalities and activists that calls for a change in Iran's Constitution in order to guarantee equal rights for women and men.

Toloui says she is now concerned that her fate could create fear and concern among other women's rights activists who are fighting for more rights and freedom.

"Its very difficult for me to talk about [what I went through]," Toloui said. "I'm partly worried that women who are actively involved in the women's movement would fear that they could face torture in case of arrest. But my message to all Iranian women who fight for their rights is that their struggle should [continue] with courage."

Human rights organizations and activists say torture is prevalent in Iran's prisons. In July, Iran's hard-line judiciary acknowledged -- in an unprecedented report -- that human-rights abuses, including torture, have in some cases taken
place in prisons and detention centers.

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RFE/RL Iran Report

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