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Bishop of St Albans raises issue of the treatment of young women protesting in Iran

04 November 2022


A young protester joins a demonstration in Times Square, New York, for women’s rights in Iran, after the brutal death in police custody of Mahsa Amini, who was 22

A young protester joins a demonstration in Times Square, New York, for women’s rights in Iran, after the brutal death in police custody of Mahsa Amini...

SCHOOLGIRLS had been at the spearhead of the struggle for women’s rights in Iran, and there had been horrifying reports of the actions of the Iranian state towards children, the Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, told the House of Lords last week.

He had been granted a short debate on the demonstrations in Iran that have followed the brutal death in police custody of Mahsa Amini, aged 22, on 16 September, after she was charged with wearing her head-covering incorrectly (News, 14 October).

Reports suggested that the largest demonstration so far had taken place on 26 October, when thousands of women gathered at Ms Amini’s grave. The Bishop recounted the fatal injuries received by a 16-year-old, Nika Shakarami, whose skull had been found to be “broken and disintegrated from multiple blows of a hard object”. Another, Asra Panahi, died from internal bleeding after being arrested and beaten for refusing to sing pro-government songs.

These were not isolated incidents, he said. “I have absolutely no doubt as to the gravity and seriousness of the actions of the Iranian regime, and wholeheartedly stand with the women who have bravely protested for freedom. The examples I have just provided barely scrape the surface of the horrors of what is going on.”

The Bishop drew urgent attention to the Islamic Republic of Iran’s election to a four-year term on the UN Commission on the Status of Women. Did the British Government have any plans to raise this matter with the UN, given the extreme behaviour of the Iranian security forces to women and young girls? “What is the point of being in the UN if these things are not raised?” he asked.

Lord Polak described the Commission on the Status of Women as “the UN’s top women’s rights body. . . It is impossible to understand how [Iran] it can be on it.”

Lord Turnberg also congratulated Dr Smith for “highlighting the terrible catalogue of inhuman activities by the regime. . . Now is the time for us to act. The UK will have a major impact if it goes ahead now and proscribes the brutal Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps [IRGC] at a time when those brave women, and men, are taking to the streets in one of the biggest demonstrations the regime has ever faced.”

Other peers also called on the Government to proscribe the IRGC. Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb said, “As with all decisions in government, at some point we have to decide if we want to protect economic gain, which in this case would mean abandoning the women, or to protect democracy, which in this case would mean supporting them.”

Lord Johnson of Lainston, a Minister of State in the Cabinet Office and the Department for International Trade, said that Iran must stop blaming external factors for the unrest. He described the use of live ammunition against demonstrators as “truly barbaric.”

Read more on this story in Paul Vallely’s column

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