Killing of Mahsa Amini in Iran


Photo source: Centre of Human Rights in Iran

By Naveede Qazi | Editor, Globe Upfront

Although the death of Mahsa Amini garnered headlines around the globe, the world did not even know of her, had it not been for her killing at the hands of a misogynist regime in Iran, whose disregard for human life has been on ample display in the ensuing crackdown on the protest movement, aptly named Woman, Life, Freedom.

Even the family of Amini was not allowed to mourn her, or commemorate her loss, without fearing for their lives themselves. Her family is now banned from traveling to Brussels to accept a prize on her behalf.

World needs to express their solidarity with the Iranian peoples longing for freedom, effectively taking up one of the protesters' demands by ‘being their voice.’ Yet, with Amini, having been more powerful after her passing than most humans will ever be in their lifetime in Iran and beyond, claiming her legacy comes with a great responsibility.

As a reaction, the EU has already passed several sanctions packages against the perpetrators of gross human rights violations in Iran, with asset freezes and travel bans issued against more than two hundred individuals and nearly forty entities.

Yet, there's a lot more the EU can do to support those seeking liberty and dignity in Iran. In fact, the consequences for European policymaking of handing the Sakharov Prize to the ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’ movement go far beyond relations with the Islamic Republic.

Concretely, three issues stand out if the EU is serious about placing a human and women's rights centred approach at the core of its foreign policy: emergency funding for immediate priorities, internet freedom to keep activists connected to the world, and addressing the issue of visa and relocating women and human rights defenders to safe spaces. That is the essence of the many recommendations that professional human rights activists have repeatedly made to European policymakers.

Firstly, the EU should urgently step up and expand its emergency funding to Iranian civil society. That's because the government in Tehran remains bent on repression, paving the way towards a complete collapse of the media, the legal profession, and civil society.

Regime forces continue to crack down on activists, including house raids, confiscating private devices, forced disappearances, arbitrary arrests in the hundreds, especially in Kurdistan and Baluchistan, increased prison sentences, and outright killings.

Moreover, measures such as the new Hijab and Chastity Bill not only negate women's civil and political rights but intend to quiet Iranian society by introducing draconian fines, including the closure of businesses and professional bans.

Such continued repression, in combination with the overall economic precarity, has exhausted most of the resources available to small and medium-sized organisations doing on-the-ground human rights work. Beyond making urgently needed funds available to those organisations through trusted intermediaries, the EU should consider how to sustain its support in the long run when the spotlight of attention will eventually fade.

Secondly, a key to supporting political movements and civil society in Iran is to uphold their access to the internet.

The digital sphere has become integral to Iran's oppressive regime, being part of a strategic plan to control and further isolate the country's citizens from the world. However, for activists worldwide, access to the internet is the light in an otherwise pretty dark room. And authoritarian states like Russia or China are watching closely how Iran expands its 'national information network', cutting users off the world wide web by controlling access points and infringing on individual rights.

The EU should therefore increase digital security programming expand digital safe spaces for Iranians in and outside the country, and incorporate these measures into a comprehensive, global strategy against digital repression.

Thirdly, the EU should support and protect those women and human rights defenders who have or had, to leave the country for their own safety, whether temporarily or for longer.

Some of them are already stranded in neighbouring countries, often under uncertain conditions. However, there are myriad structural barriers to their passage to safety, from long waiting times and restrictions on visa applications from outside one's home country to criteria effectively excluding some activists from being eligible for asylum.

Therefore, at a moment when the EU is about to roll back the human rights standards of its own asylum system, awarding a prize to activists who it might not be ready to protect if needed, risks exposing European hypocrisy rather than solidarity.

Infact, the journalists who reported on her death were slapped with long term prison sentences. Journalists in Iran, namely Niloufar Hamedi and Elahe Mohammadi, have been detained in Iran for over a year. It underscores the use of the judiciary in Iran as nothing more than a tool of the state’s repressive apparatus, because the state disallowed them to publish basic facts.


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