Tunisian rising gives heart to Iranian human rights activists


Resistance still exists within Iran, an exiled activist tells MARY FITZGERALD, Foreign Affairs Correspondent

THE UPRISING in Tunisia which resulted in the ousting of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali has been observed with great interest in Iran, giving activists there hope, a leading Iranian women’s rights advocate has said during a visit to Dublin.

“The Tunisian revolution was a good shock, not just for Tunisia but also for the region including Iran. It brings a sense of hope and that is very important,” said Parvin Ardalan, who was awarded the Olof Palme Award in 2007 for her human rights work in Iran.

Ardalan, who left Iran months after the protests that followed the disputed presidential election in June 2009, is in regular contact with rights activists there who are operating in what she says is an increasingly repressive environment. “The Tunisian situation is causing a lot of debate among the people in Iran, whether online or in newspapers, even in conservative newspapers,” she said. “Some are looking to Tunisia and saying to themselves we could do this in Iran but why have we not achieved it yet?

Last night Ardalan, a journalist and co-founder of the One Million Signatures Campaign aimed at ending discriminatory laws in Iran, gave a talk at UCD on the women’s rights movement in her home country. The event was organised by the UCD School of Social Justice in conjunction with Amnesty International.

She discussed the difficulties faced by activists following the crackdown after the 2009 elections. Hundreds have been arrested, jailed or forced to seek exile in countries including Turkey. Courts have handed down far harsher penalties and sentences.

Ardalan, who now lives in Sweden, mentioned the plight of her lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, as an example. Sotoudeh, who has also represented Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, was sentenced to 11 years in prison earlier this month. “[The government] is trying to institutionalise oppression by making it a normality,” Ardalan said. “The more pressure the current government exerts on the public, the more it shows its fear.”

She said the Iranian authorities had made efforts to prevent communication between activists and to disrupt their networks. “It is affecting activists across the board from political activists to social activists,” Ardalan said.

“But this repression shows that resistance exists still in Iran, and the authorities know this. It has not stopped.”