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Themes Women as Human Rights Defenders » Nima Rashedan

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Interviewed May 2011

Nima Rashedan was among the first Iranian cyber-activists. Born in Tehran in 1974, his father was a leftist opponent of the government headed by the Shah, so the family was forced into exile in the United States but returned to Iran after the 1979 revolution.

Upon his return, Rashedan became a member of student organizations and worked as a journalist, becoming one of the first writers to publish articles in Farsi on the Internet. In the late 1990s, after the election of President Khatami, he began writing pro-democracy articles.

In 1998, Rashedan was arrested and served time in prison, including a month in solitary confinement. After his release, Rashedan immigrated to Switzerland. He now lives in the Czech Republic and continues his work as a cyber-journalist and advocate. A frequent focus of his work is the similarity between the methods and objectives of the current Iranian regime and those of the former Soviet Union. 

I think the amount of human rights violations in the case of women, if I don’t say thousand times, it’s hundred times more than ordinary male citizens in Iran. I went to school in Iran. Nobody ever searched my bag before getting to school; that’s what they do, in the very, very humiliating way, up to these days, with millions of Iranian girls – every day in the school being searched, even the clothes and underwear being searched, not to bring any piece of cosmetics. Iran is a hot climate. Imagine right now in Tehran with something like 40, 45 centigrade, women have to cover themselves with the very thick black [material] – just to give you practical examples.

I’m not talking about big ideas. They are really suffering under that. And they are under pressure, like many other women in the region, because of employment, you know, being part of the job market, difficult economic time. And they are being questioned by government agents; last year they announced, just in the Tehran there were 370,000 arrests of women because of not paying attention to Islamic dress code.

If you imagine about 370,000 individuals who have been, you know, some sort of kidnapped from the street, brought to some facility, their name being registered – this is something more dramatic than the Third Reich. So women are being seen in Iran as the Jewish population of Nazi Germany; they are being considered as the main, prime enemy and suspect in this country because they are just asking for their rights.

They want to have equal rights and, you know, in the eyes of the law they want to be seen like men. So I think the future of Iran is really in the hands of women. I think they’re motivation for coming to the streets, as you have seen on your TV screens, was much higher than men.

And let’s not forget, in a country in the Middle East, if one girl comes into the street – and you can see that on the TV – this particular one girl will bring thousands of men who feel very humiliated sitting at home and watching this footage that their sister on the street is being beaten by the government agents, and they are sitting at home and watching. So, I think, either this way or that way, the future of Iran is in the hand of women.

If you just compare, for example, Mr. [Mir-Hossein] Mousavi’s discourse; like, one of the candidates which is right now under house arrest. You see, his wife, Mrs. [Zahra] Rahnavard, is much more radical and much more pro-reform, even in comparison with Mr. Mousavi, who was kind of radical in his own agenda. There is in their election campaign’s video, you can see that when Mr. Mousavi says, “Yeah, we want a democratic Iran for men and women,” his wife just stops him and says, “Wait, wait, wait, no, the situation is not the same; wait where you go.”

Women have a huge, huge problem here in this country; and you have to concentrate, you have to focus. You cannot give us this hope of okay, after everything will be democratic, women and men will be the same. No, you have to start right now. If you see the house of Mr. Mousavi and people who are close to the current of power when there is such a, you know, huge pressure from the women all along the political spectrum, then you can see how the system is under pressure to change the situation. 

Iran is a Middle Eastern nation with a population of just over 77 million. Iran’s population is predominately Persian, and Persian is the official language. The Shia branch of Islam is the official state religion, and approximately 90-95 percent of the population belongs to the faith. The second-largest nation in the region, Iran contains some of the world’s largest oil and gas reserves. The energy industry makes up a large portion of Iran’s economy, and the nation is one of the founding members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

The Islamic Republic of Iran is the world's only remaining theocratic state, in which political leadership is vested in religious authorities. The Islamic Republic was created in 1979 following a revolution against the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. Although many elements of Iranian society led the revolution, ultimately Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his followers gained control of the country. In December 1979, the country adopted an Islamic constitution providing that “all civil, criminal, financial, economic, administrative, cultural, military, political and all other statutes and regulations be in keeping with Islamic [law].”

Following adoption of the new constitution, Khomeini became the “Supreme Leader,” the ultimate political and religious authority in the country. Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Hoseyni Khamenei has been Supreme Leader since Khomeini’s death in 1989. The Supreme Leader is selected by a body of Islamic scholars called the Assembly of Experts. The Supreme Leader is responsible for the military and security concerns of Iran and has the final say on all issues. The president of Iran, who is elected by the public from a list approved by the Guardian Council (a body comprised of clerics and jurists), is nominally responsible for administration of the executive branch and is subject to the authority of the Supreme Leader.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president in 2005. Ahmadinejad was viewed as an ultraconservative and his views a stark contrast from the relatively reformist policies of his predecessor, President Mohammad Khatami. Despite promises of equality and fighting corruption, Ahmadinejad and his administration cracked down on civil liberties and more strictly enforced religious-based morality laws.

Ahmadinejad was reelected in 2009 in an election widely viewed as fraudulent. Following the June 2009 election, hundreds of thousands of Iranians took to the streets in the largest protests in the country since 1979, which came to be known as the “Green Revolution.” The government responded to the peaceful protestors with a massive campaign of intimidation, violence, and limits on freedoms. Universities were closed down, media outlets and internet resources censored, and rights to assembly restricted.

In June 2013, Hassan Rouhani was elected President and replaced Ahmadinejad. Rouhani has a reputation as a relatively moderate reformer and has promised additional freedoms and rights. It remains to be seen whether or not these promises will be fulfilled.

According to Freedom House, Iran is one of the least-free countries in the world. In its most recent report, Iran received a score of six in both the political rights and civil liberties categories, where one represents most free and seven represents least free. Iran has been the subject of numerous resolutions at the United Nations condemning the country’s human rights record. Among other things, the government uses summary arrest and execution against its political opponents. The death penalty is applied even for nonviolent crimes, including adultery. Radio and television broadcasting are under the control of the government and provide only government-approved content. Women are denied equal rights in marriage and other areas.


More on this theme from Nima Rashedan

Nima Rashedan: Iranian Women On conditions for women in Iran and the role of women in leading the pro-democracy movement.

Other videos from Nima Rashedan

Nima Rashedan: Ideas in Solitary Confinement On his time in solitary confinement. Nima Rashedan: Physical and Digital Revolution Describing the beginning of the cyberdissident movement in Iran. Nima Rashedan: Time as an Ally “Nobody, nobody really can silence us because the technology and time is in our side.” More + Nima Rashedan: War on Media “It was a kind of war on media.” More +