By Shambhavi Saxena for Cake:
The issue of corporal punishment in Iran has been brought to light once again, as journalist and women’s rights activist Masih Alinejad took to social media to highlight various cases of the same. A few days ago, she shared an image of a young woman who had been arrested and given lashes across her back for being at a mixed-gender party.
Alinejad has been raising awareness about the ways in which Iranian society polices people, especially women, since 2014. It was the year she launched My Stealthy Freedom, a campaign inviting women to share photos of themselves without their headscarves on. The campaign received waves of support both from within Iran, and internationally. But if the hijab represents a milder form of social restriction, the punishment of 99 lashes for doing anything ‘un-Islamic’ is far more brutal. Cake spoke to Alinejad to find out more about the current situation.
“I received many photos from women and men inside Iran showing that they suffered from lashes,” she said, mentioning also an incident that took place in Qazvin. In May this year 35 co-ed students who were celebrating their graduation with dancing and drinking were arrested, and sentenced to 99 lashes each by the judiciary. Alinejad said very categorically that the point was to create fear, and stop people from having mixed-gender parties.
“This is the 21st century, and you see women get lashes, get arrested, just because they want personal freedom, because they want to be happy, because they want to choose what they wear.”
And this is hardly the first time this has happened. Last year, poets Fatemeh Ekhtesari and Mehdi Musavi were sentenced to 99 lashes for kissing and hugging persons of the opposite sex (this was over and above their 11.5 year sentence for poetry that was perceived as “insulting sanctities”). The year before this, a massive petition was started demanding corporal punishment for Iranian actor Leila Hatami, who received a quick peck on the cheek by a man during the Cannes film festival, and around the same time, six Iranian men and women were sentenced to lashings for dancing together in a music video.
But while these and a few other incidents have been covered by international press, not every case does, even though they happen very regularly.
“That’s why I started to invite people to talk about it, share their photos and experiences,” says Alinejad. “This is a backward law. And if we don’t talk about it loudly, it will still be there.”
#نه_به_شلاق این عکس دختر جوانی است که در یک مهمانی مختلط بازداشت و سپس به شلاق محکوم شده. چندی پیش دادستان قزوین در رسانه های رسمی اعلام کرده بود: سی و پنج دختر و پسر در یک پارتی شبانه در یکی از ویلاهای قزوین دستگیر شده و هر یک از آنها به نود و نه ضربه شلاق تعزیری محکوم و حکم آنها در کمتر از بیست و چهار ساعت اجرا شد. This harrowing photo belongs to a young girl in Iran. She was arrested at a mixed-gender party [for being in the company of men that she was not related to] and was arrested. As a punishment, she was sentenced to being lashed. You can see the effects of these lashes on her back.
Not only do laws like these promote gross human rights violations, they also affect people in various other ways.
“Women who have faced the lashes say the humiliation is worse than the pain,” Alinejad tells us. “One woman I interviewed said she stayed with a friend after punishment but told her family she was going on vacation.”
And the lashes themselves are just the beginning. As if the physical scars aren’t bad enough, it also becomes hard to get a job, she explains, because of the fingerprints, and background checks, and various other information about civilians that state authorities possess.
Even as instances of lashes continue, one wonders what Iran’s government is doing about it all. Before Hassan Rouhani became the country’s president in 2013, his election campaign emphasised the need for more personal freedoms, and spoke against the country’s ‘morality police.’
Alinejad weighs in on this as well: “In theory he promised a lot of good things, and supported women’s rights. He even promised he would free political prisoners. But in practice nothing has changed. There are some advances, but they still impound cars in public when they see women not wearing proper Islamic hijab while driving. Within 8 months, 40,000 cars were impounded because of this! In Tehran, they hired 7,000 undercover morality police to tell men and women how to behave and what to wear. And the number of executions is even higher compared to when Ahmedinejad was in power!”
She further comments on the Rouhani government’s priorities: “He managed to have a negotiation with Iran’s big enemy, the USA, over the nuclear issue, but he didn’t manage to negotiate with women inside Iran about their personal freedom!”
Alinejad continues to document instances of these ‘everyday’ human rights violations on various social media platforms, and hopes that raising awareness about the issues in Iran will help end the “barbaric punishments” levied against Iranian women, for things that should be their basic human rights and nothing less.