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Activist sentenced to 24 years in prison

AI-Index: MDE 13/1416/2019

Iranian women’s rights defender Saba Kordafshari, 21, has been sentenced to 24 years in prison for her peaceful human rights work, including campaigning against Iran’s discriminatory forced veiling laws. If her verdict is upheld on appeal, she would be required to serve 15 years of her prison sentence. She is a prisoner of conscience who must be immediately and unconditionally released.


On 1 June 2019, women’s rights defender Saba Kordafshari was arrested by 11 plain-clothes agents from the ministry of intelligence at her home. Agents handcuffed Raheleh Ahmadi, Saba Kordafshari’s mother, and confiscated Saba Kordafshari’s mobile and laptop. Saba Kordafshari was then held in prolonged solitary confinement for 11 days in Vozara detention centre in Tehran, where she was questioned about her communications with the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), an Iranian human rights group, including information she had sent to them about prison conditions, which prisoner of conscience Alireza Shirmohammadali had provided her. Alireza Shirmohammadali was murdered in the Penitentiary Complex in Tehran (also known as Fashafouyeh prison) on 10 June 2019. Saba Kordafshari was also put under repeated pressure to denounce on camera the White Wednesdays campaign against compulsory veiling laws and its founder, Masih Alinejad, a US-based Iranian journalist. On 11 June 2019, Saba Kordafshari was transferred to Shahr-e Rey prison, where women convicted of serious violent crimes are held in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions.

On 2 July 2019, the intelligence unit of the Revolutionary Guards transferred Saba Kordafshari to another location. They concealed her fate and whereabouts from her family until they returned her to Shahr-e Rey prison on 13 July 2019, thus subjecting her to enforced disappearance for those 12 days. She subsequently informed her family that she had been held in section 2-A of Evin prison, which is under the control of the Revolutionary Guards, and put under renewed pressure to give forced «confessions». The interrogators conditioned her release on giving forced «confessions» and threatened to arrest her mother, Raheleh Ahmadi, if she did not «co-operate». On 10 July 2019, the authorities carried out their threat and arrested Raheleh Ahmadi. Saba Kordafshari subsequently told her family that she had been held in an interrogation room with a sack over her head blocking her sight for much of the day when suddenly she heard her mother being interrogated nearby. That is when she realized the Revolutionary Guards had carried out their threat to arrest her mother. She was then forced to give a «confession» before a camera. Saba Kordafshari was reunited with her mother in Shahr-e Rey prison a few days later. Her mother was released on bail on 14 July 2019. On 13 August 2019, Saba Kordafshari was transferred to the women’s ward of Tehran’s Evin prison.

The prosecution of Saba Kordafshari is part of a wider crackdown on women’s rights defenders campaigning against discriminatory forced veiling laws. Yasaman Aryani and her mother, Monireh Arabshahi, were sentenced on 31 July 2019 to 16 years in prison each, while Mojgan Keshavarz was sentenced to 23 years and six months in prison. If these convictions and sentences are upheld on appeal, each woman would be required to serve 10 years of her prison sentence, as per Iran’s sentencing guidelines. See for further information.

A growing movement against discriminatory and abusive forced veiling laws has emerged in Iran, with women and girls standing in public places, silently waving their headscarves on the ends of sticks or sharing videos of themselves walking down the street with their hair showing. This movement includes, in addition to White Wednesdays, My Stealthy Freedom, which encourages women from Iran to post online pictures of themselves without headscarves by way of opposing forced veiling, and My Camera My Weapon, which aims to raise awareness of the constant harassment and assault that women and girls face on Iran’s streets as a result of forced veiling laws. The Iranian authorities have felt threatened by the strength of this movement and waged a crackdown in response. In an official statement on 23 February 2018, the police warned that women peacefully protesting the discriminatory and abusive practice of forced veiling would now be charged with «inciting and facilitation corruption and prostitution», which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. See for more information. Forced veiling laws violate a whole host of rights, including the rights to equality, privacy and freedom of expression and belief. These laws also degrade women and girls, stripping them of their dignity and self-worth.

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