Women's rights - focal point of recent protest actions resulting in arrests

Peaceful Assembly

The Iranian authorities have continued their crackdown on peaceful protesters since the last update on the CIVICUS Monitor. According to reports, several women have been arrested in Iran since the end of January 2018. On 29th January 2018, civil society reported the arrest of Nargess Hosseini who took off her headscarf in protest against Iran’s compulsory requirement to wear a hijab. Hosseini's defiant act on top of an electric utility box in Tehran has become symbolic of the struggle for women's rights and sparked a string of similar protests. Recent reports indicate that there have been at least 30 other women arrested for acts of civil disobedience since Hosseini's initial protest. On 14th February 2018, Azam Jangravi was arrested for a similar protest and on 21st February Sharapak Shajarizadeh was also arrested for removing their headscarves. While Hosseini and Jangravi were later released on bail, reports note that Shajarizadeh went on a hunger strike over ill-treatment while in detention and denial of access to legal counsel. The latest reports from Iran allege that another unnamed woman has been sentenced to two years imprisonment for defying Iran's hijab requirement for women. 

Maryam Shariatmadari, who was also arrested during the protests, has since been charged with acting against national security. The arrests have been condemned by human rights defenders in Iran and by the international community, including 45 members of the European Parliament. Human rights groups, such as the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), also claim that Shariatmadari has been denied medical treatment for an injury sustained during her protest. In the footage below, Shariatmadari can be seen being pushed off a box during her protest by an unknown individual, which caused an injury to her knee: 

On 19th February 2018, clashes broke out during during a protest in Tehran by members of the Gonabadi Sufi order, otherwise known as dervishes. The mobilisation started after reports emerged that the arrest of Gonabadi Sufi community leader Nourali Tabandeh was imminent. In response, the local Sufi community surrounded his house to prevent Iranian authorities from detaining him. The protest led to violent clashes between a large crowd and Iranian security forces, resulting in six police officers dead and over 300 protesters arrested. Shocking footage from the clashes captures a bus barreling into Iranian security forces, which is believed to be the cause of the six deaths. 

Meanwhile, members of the Sufi community report that the mobilisation was provoked after security forces attacked the crowd. Both accounts of the violence have been disputed. In a statement to CHRI, Kasra Nouri, a spokesperson for the Sufi community, claimed that: 

"...he [Nouri] had witnessed many plainclothes agents attacking the protesters with sticks and stones. He [Nouri] was arrested hours after the interview..."

The lethal clashes come at a time when tensions between the Sufi minority and Iranian authorities have increased over a perceived lack of tolerance for religious minorities.

On 1st March 2018, Iranian authorities announced that 41 students who participated in January's protests have had cases opened against them. According to CHRI, the Iranian courts have opened cases against the students of Tehran University who participated in protests in January 2018. These investigations were ongoing at time of writing. 


UN human rights experts have recently condemned the targeting of environmental human rights defenders in Iran following the death of an activist working with the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation (PWHF). Kavous Seyed Emami was arrested on 24th January 2018 on spurious charges of spying. On 10th February 2018, his family was informed by the authorities that Emami had committed suicide in detention. In a statement, several UN officials drew attention to the strong possibility of mistreatment during Emami's detention. John H. Knox, Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment; David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; and José Antonio Guevara Bermúdez, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared together that: 

“Mr Emami’s death is extremely disturbing. Not only was he arrested on flimsy charges, but his death in custody strongly suggests foul play. The Iranian authorities must urgently allow a prompt, impartial and effective investigation into the circumstances and causes of Mr. Emami’s death”. 

The UN representatives also reiterated calls for Iran to respect and uphold international commitments to protecting fundamental freedoms. 


According to the CHRI and the Committee to Protect Journalists, on 19th February 2018 reporters Reza Entessari and Kasra Nouri were arrested while covering the violent Sufi protests in Tehran. Reporters Without Borders reported that the two journalists were brutally attacked and beaten during their arrest, which left them in comas. Little is else is known about their conditions.

The Gulf Center for Human Rights also reported that on 26th February 2018, journalist Reyhaneh Tabatabaei with the Emtedad electronic newspaper was summoned to Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court, where Judge Abolqasem Salavati accused her of “propaganda against the regime”. A number of civil society organisations have decried these fabricated charges as little more than an attempt to silence an independent and critical journalist. According to the International Federation of Journalists, Tabatabaei has been arrested three times in eight years on baseless allegations.