In Iran, it’s a crime for women to appear in public with their hair uncovered.
Yasaman Aryani, a 24-year-old Iranian woman, wanted to make change and ended up being sentenced to 16 years in prison for campaigning against forced veiling.
She’s currently in Section 2A of the notorious Evin Prison. This is the area where people are typically held in solitary confinement, interrogated by the Revolutionary Guards and denied access to their lawyers.
“In the past few years, a growing movement against forced veiling laws has emerged inside Iran, with women and girls performing courageous acts of defiance,” Amnesty International campaigner Nikita White told Women’s Agenda.
Amnesty International Australia is working hard to improve conditions for Yasaman, including holding the letter-writing Write for Rights campaign – the world’s biggest human rights event that pressures governments around the world.
Below, Nikita White shares more about Yasaman’s case and explains how the Write for Rights campaign, as old fashioned as it seems, does actually work.
What do we need to know about Yasaman Aryani’s case?
It was International Women’s Day 2019 when Yasaman and her mother took off their headscarves and walked through a women-only train carriage in Tehran, handing out flowers. Yasaman spoke of her hopes for a future when all women would have the freedom to choose what to wear, “me without the hijab and you with the hijab”.
After a video of this went viral, Yasaman was arrested and charged with “inciting and facilitating corruption and prostitution” through promoting “unveiling”.
After the authorities held Yasaman in solitary confinement and threatened to arrest her family if she didn’t “repent”, they sentenced her to 16 years in prison. Her mother was also arrested and sentenced to 16 years in prison.
Can you explain a little about the forced veiling laws & the impact the laws have on the everyday lives of women in Iran?
Under Iran’s compulsory veiling laws, women and girls are forced to cover their hair with a headscarf whether they wish to do so or not. Women who do not are treated as criminals by the state and may be arrested, prosecuted and sentenced to a prison term, flogging or a fine – all this for the “crime” of exercising the right to choose what to wear.
In the past few years, a growing movement against forced veiling laws has emerged inside Iran, with women and girls performing courageous acts of defiance. They stand in public places, silently waving their headscarves on the ends of sticks or share videos of themselves walking down the street with their hair showing. Men have joined this movement, too. So have women who actively choose to wear hijab – because the movement is about choice: a woman’s right to choose what to wear without fear of harassment, violence, threats and imprisonment.
Yasaman’s cruel punishment is part of a wider crackdown on women campaigning against discriminatory forced veiling laws in Iran. The Iranian authorities must not be allowed to rob Yasaman of the best years of her life – simply because she believes women should have the right to choose what they wear.
Can you tell us a little about Write for Rights and what Amnesty International is hoping to achieve through the campaign?
Just over 15 years ago, Amnesty activists in Poland held a letter-writing marathon – the first Write for Rights. Now, it’s the world’s biggest human rights event.
As old-fashioned as that seems, it does actually work. Amnesty’s Write for Rights campaigns have resulted in improved conditions for people in prison, including Atena Daemi, an activist in Iran who was given much needed medication in 2019 after 500,000 people took action for her during Write for Rights in 2018. In the best possible outcome, people are also freed thanks to the power of the words from Amnesty supporters all around the world.
In 2019 we’re working with 10 courageous young people, including Yasaman, pressuring governments around the world to respect their rights.
Every single day, people around the world face attacks on their human rights. Too often, it’s young people who are the worst affected by injustice.
Young people are also leading the fight against this injustice. They call out climate inaction and call for women’s rights. But they face harassment and imprisonment for doing so.
Some young people are locked up simply because of who they are or who they worship.
Others even face the death penalty.
What can our readers to do help Yasaman and other women in similar situations?