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Before Attacking Trump, Iran’s President Should Fix Human Rights Violations In Own Country

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With the election of Donald Trump, one would think that Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani and his ever-smiling foreign minister Javad Zarif, have their hands full trying to ensure the nuclear deal stays intact. But in reality, they are facing a bigger problem closer home.

These days, the conservative forces in Iran are using social media to suggest that five ministers in Rouhani’s cabinet have had sexual liaisons with a female journalist. The same groups are spreading rumours that Zarif has married a second time.

Iranian journalist
Iranian Journalist Afarin Chitsaz Photo Source: Facebook

This bizarre episode started some days ago when Hossein Allahkaram, head of the militant organization Ansar-e Hezbollah, the semi-official group of thugs responsible for extreme violence against university students and other demonstrators, accused journalist Afarin Chitsaz of being the “second wife of Zarif.”

The notorious Allahkaram is not someone you readily mess around with — the European Union has sanctioned him for multiple human rights violations.

Who is Chitsaz? Actually, apart from being a single female journalist, there is nothing special about her. She was a columnist for a state-owned newspaper in Iran but had not engaged in any serious political activity. Her columns were generally pro-government and in fact few had heard of her. This was until October 2015 when her home was raided by the Revolutionary Guards and she was arrested. She was later transferred to Ward 2A of the Evin Prison, where political prisoners are kept.

In April, she was accused of “assembly and collusion against national security and collaboration with foreigners” and sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment.

If that wasn’t bad enough, media outlets allied with conservative factions to circulate photoshopped images of Chitsaz standing next to Zarif. The images identified her as the Foreign Minister’s second wife.

Allahkaram didn’t stop there. He accused Chitsaz of “engaging in an illicit affair” with five government ministers. In his speeches, he claims she has already confessed to having engaged in immoral and illicit sexual intercourse with these cabinet members.

For journalists and public figures in Iran, accusations of involvement in illicit affairs is not new. When I interviewed Chitsaz’s lawyer Mohammad Moghimi last week, he told me that the allegations were ‘pure fabrications’ removed from reality. There is a very human angle to these allegations though, Chitsaz parents are very distressed by the accusations. But they are just collateral damage in Iran’s cutthroat political scene.

Moghimi also told me that Allahkaram had no right to access Chitsaz’s case files legally. The conservative factions say there are national security implications involving Chitsaz. If that’s the case, Moghimi says, there is even less reason for Allahkaram to have access to these files, since he is neither part of the Intelligence Ministry nor was he present during hours of interrogation. The question then is – if the details have been leaked, who was responsible?

Moghimi, says he plans to file a complaint on behalf of his client because the allegations are unfounded and have tarnished the reputation of her family. He doesn’t expect much relief though — after all, the judiciary is controlled by the conservative factions.

The reality – as Moghimi and hundreds of Iranian lawyers already know – is that unfounded accusations of illicit sexual conduct against journalists is nothing new in the Islamic republic. Blaming women isn’t new either.

I can speak from my own experience. As a young parliamentary journalist in Iran, I was constantly accused of having several affairs with politicians and government ministers. To be honest, my so-called illicit affairs became so numerous that I lost count.

When I exposed corruption in 2004 among lawmakers in Iran’s Majlis (parliament), the conservatives accused me of being flirtatious and getting my information by offering sexual favours. Conservative newspapers wrote sordid tales of my sexual misconduct. Accusations of having stolen deputies’ payslips finally led to my expulsion. It didn’t matter that my sources – the moderate lawmakers – came forward to dispute these accusations. I was expelled from the Majlis, the only reporter to have earned that dubious distinction because the gossip was that I had traded sexual favours for the documents.

Since then, the conservative newspapers have published defamatory stories about me alleging my involvement in sexual relations with reformist lawmakers from time to time. In 2009 – 10, I was one among a number of women who was accused of being the real power behind the protests against the fraudulent presidential elections that led to the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Iran will have its own presidential elections in May and different political groups are already planning their moves. President Hassan Rouhani and his so-called moderates, have decided not to challenge the accusations made against Chitsaz by the conservatives. As she languishes in jail, there have been no comments from either Rouhani or his ministers.Clearly, it is easier for Rouhani and Zarif to criticise President-elect Donald Trump than deal with injustices at home.

The silence, as they say, is deafening.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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