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The Dehumanization Of Iran's Powerful Female Activists

Women locked up for political activism in Iran face psychological torture as they serve hugely unjust sentences.

Although the country claims to have no political prisoners, Iran incarcerates more than 189,000 prisoners with 3.1% of them being women, many who are considered political prisoners and given sentences much heftier than their crimes.

Despite their minimal crimes, and not being of danger to the public, hundreds of women have seen an increase in jail time and rapid transfers that come without warning to prisons that are described as “dangerous and alarming”.

Once these women are arrested, contact with the outside world is immediately seized from their control and family and friends have little to no information on the whereabouts or condition of their loved ones behind bars.

Recently, the Iranian courts sentenced Britished-Irani national, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe to an additional year of prison time after she completed her burdensome 5 year sentence for “plotting to topple the Iranian government”. News of her increased prison time, given for seemingly no authentic reason by the Iranian courts, caused an outbreak of anger from campaigners and supporters of human and women's rights. Campaigners claim that in the past 6 months, the number of women imprisoned for political activism that have been moved to locations far outside the capital city of Tehran has rapidly increased. Many women are being transferred and locked up with inmates who have committed far more considerable crimes, such as murder. The cause of such events is unarguably a question of legitimacy of the Iranian courts. However, the situation only gets worse. Prisoners such as Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who are serving unjustifiable sentences for actions that many may not even consider a crime, face tortuous maltreatment repeatedly, including being “raped by interrogators, attacked by fellow prisoners and denied medical treatment.” Personal belongings are stolen or taken away and access to basic sanitation and drinking water is sometimes completely denied, leading to the spread of disease. Guards work with non-political prisoners to intentionally attack them and visits from family are virtually impossible.

Essentially, the conditions of both their sentences and circumstances, put these otherwise influential women under psychological torture, dehumanising them to the point of extreme depression or in some cases even suicide. This leads to a series of questions about the motives, values and legitimacy of the Iranian justice system.

Nasrin Sotoudeh is a human rights lawyer who worked closely with women's rights issues and protested against veiling laws (the mandatory practice of women and young girls covering their hair), and has been imprisoned for a number of years. Last January, she was diagnosed with myocardial bridge, a medical condition which leads to chest pain, breathing difficulties and various heart problems. Medical professionals advised that she avoid stress and stay in a well ventilated area. However, the conditions at Shahr-e Rey prison are concerningly poor, as it is a disguised chicken farm that holds several hundred women in unhygienic conditions without access to food, clean water and air. Reports from this prison account high levels of assault between inmates themselves and prison staff as well as drug usage and infectious diseases.

Zeynab Jalalian, a Kurdish Iranian woman, has been to more than 4 different prisons. She describes her experiences there as a form of “mental torture.” Another victim of the unlawful system was mentioned in an open letter by her husband that claimed she was dragged across the floor by her hair. There are numerous cases of women peacefully protesting or campaigning against human rights affairs that have led to years in these appalling prison conditions. There are many multinational human rights organizations such as Amnesty, who work to try and release these women and improve the conditions for those living under these harsh laws. The exploitation and ongoing problems that make the human rights in Iran questionable are blatantly obvious to anyone taking notice. However, the voices fighting against these issues are silenced by the inhumane conditions of Iranian prisons and the threat of never living in peace again.

The topic has been bought up a number of times, and the Iranian government has been approached for comment. One can only hope that these women locked up will get the justice they deserve and the country will work alongside organizations such as Amnesty and the United Nations to improve the human rights for their citizens. However, for the time being many of these female political prisoners are still under the so called psychological torture and a moral ending is no where in sight.

What can you do to help?

Donate to Amnesty International at or sign reliable petitions to do with the issue.



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