Voices of women, life and freedom battle sadism in Iran

Oct 16, 2023
Nazanin Boniadi

In Australia, in the 25th year of the award of the Sydney Peace Prize, attention has at last been turned to a country, Iran, ruled by fear. The award-winning Iranian born British activist and actress Nazanin Boniadi will receive the 2023 Sydney Peace Prize ‘for drawing attention to human rights violations in Iran, for lending a powerful voice to support for Iranian women and girls in their Women, Life Freedom Movement.’

Philosopher, author Niccolo Machiavelli taught that tyrants could not tolerate criticism, in particular when expressed through ironic commentary on their cruelties. In opposing sadism in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Machiavellian satire would claim that leaders of a highly moral theocracy would never be enthusiasts for the torture and murder of their own people. You must be joking?

Irony can be conveyed with light hearted disbelief, but for Iranian citizens, in particular women and girls, repression is deadly serious. Yet a touch of rationality could prompt the question, who in heaven’s name conceived the following charges as meriting a death penalty: ‘Enmity against God’, ‘Corruption on Earth’, ‘Belittling the Quran’, ‘Apostasy’ (adopting another religion or atheism).

Other cruelties persist. On the Tehran metro on October 3, following assault by morality police for not having her head covered, sixteen-year-old Armita Garavand now lies in a coma at Fajr hospital, guarded by security forces and the hospital cordoned off.

In September 2022, arrested for the same alleged morality offence, Mahsa Jina Amini died in custody.

Amini’s death prompted the ‘Women, Life Freedom’ protests against the powers of morality police employed to implement a religious discipline which controls the lives of women and girls. Misogyny Inc. flourishes and protests against Mahsa Amini’s death only appear to have strengthened the government’s resolve to promote their brand of religious and sexual purity.

In May 2023, the Iranian parliament passed a ‘Bill to Support the Culture of Chastity and the Hijab’. To explain the merits of that bill, officials on state media referred to unveiling, – women walking bare headed – as a ‘virus’, a ‘social illness’, a ‘disorder’ and declared that women who chose to appear bare headed in public must be ‘sexually depraved.’

The Ministry of Education then announced that educational services would not be provided to students who did not comply with the rules of ‘chastity and hijab.’

Taste for sadism reached extremes in 1988 when the supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwah for the killing of prisoners identified as intellectuals, students, left wingers, members of the Peoples Mojahedin of Iran, and from ethnic and religious minorities subsequently sentenced for non-violent offences such as taking part in demonstrations and collecting funds for prisoners.

In appearance before Islamic courts, defendants were asked ‘Are you a Muslim?’, ‘Do you pray?’ ‘Do you recant your beliefs and political activities?’ If the answers were judged insufficient, they were sent for execution. In June 2012 a London Tribunal estimated that as many as 5,000 prisoners including women and teenagers were loaded on to fork lift trucks and at half hour intervals hanged from cranes in groups of five or six.

Amnesty International records Iran executing more than two hundred and fifty people in 2019.

The same sadistic urge has followed the recent protests. The Norwegian based Iran Human Rights (IHR) group records over 500 protesters killed when protesting the death of Mahsa Amini.

Human Rights Watch of May 2023 reports that in the previous two weeks, Iranian authorities executed over 60 people, among whom ethnic minorities had been priority targets.

Three young men, arrested for alleged participation in anti- government protests, Majid Kazemi, Saleh Mirhashemi and Saled Yajoubi were sentenced to death less than two months after their arrest and executed weeks after the Supreme Court rubber stamped their unjust convictions.

Cruel and inhuman punishments include flogging, amputation and blinding, this latter atrocity aimed by security forces at carefully selected people, disproportionately young women. The New York Times reports that following government crackdown on protesters 500 young people had sought treatment after being blinded by shots in one eye.

Disbelief at sadism should be coupled to admiration for the courage of protesters, among whom lawyer Nasrim Sotoudeh is a key figure, described by Right Livelihood magazine as a powerful symbol of hope for a more just and equitable society. Frequently imprisoned since 2010 for her human rights activism, held for long periods in solitary confinement, in March 2019, Nasrim was arrested on charges of ‘stoking corruption and prostitution’, sentenced to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes.

Iranians explain that fear rules, religiosity is sustained by repression, sadism continues unhindered.

To understand the Iranian regime’s power needs only a quick glance at hundreds of thousands of armed men, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Basij Resistance Force, plus diverse platoons of morality police paid to protect the interests of the Islamic Republic.

Although Iranian men have supported the Mahsa Amini protests and other features of women’s suppression, concerning marriage, employment, inheritance and political office, the survival of a cruel regime still depends on the compliance of men in and out of uniform.

Observing such a culture prompts a Machiavellian satirical question. Men who are fathers, brothers, uncles, cousins will surely not be arresting for beating up wives, mothers, daughters and nieces in the name of religious despotism?

For the impressively brave Nasrim Sotoudeh, there is nothing to laugh at. She explains why she must continue to resist. ‘If I don’t do anything the situation worsens, it leads to the slavery of our young women and men.’

In Australia, in the 25th year of the award of the Sydney Peace Prize, attention has at last been turned to this country ruled by fear. The award-winning Iranian born British activist and actress Nazanin Boniadi will receive the 2023 Sydney Peace Prize ‘for drawing attention to human rights violations in Iran, for lending a powerful voice to support for Iranian women and girls in their Women, Life Freedom Movement.’

Nazanin Boniadi knows that a prisoner such as Sotoudeh could not leave Iran, hence her (Nazanin’s) dedication of the Sydney Peace Prize to ‘My compatriots who are subjected to unspeakable assaults on their minds, bodies, souls and who risk their lives to speak out against injustice.’

Nazanin Boniadi will give the 2023 Sydney Peace Prize Lecture on November 2 in the Sydney Town Hall.

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