Interview with Shadi Sadr

Collecting Evidence for Crimes against Humanity

The Iranian women's rights activist and lawyer Shadi Sadr was imprisoned for over ten days during the protests following the recent Iranian presidential election. Ariana Mirza spoke to her about the current human rights situation and the reform movement in Iran

Shadi Sadr (photo: Meydaan News/DW)
The European Parliament nominated Shadi Sadr for the Sakharov Prize 2009 to honour her work as founder of the "Stop stoning forever" campaign

​​ Ms Sadr, you were held in prison from the 17th to the 28th of July. How did this come about?

Shadi Sadr: When I was detained, I was with other activists on the way to a demonstration. A car stopped suddenly, three people wearing ordinary clothes got out, one of them – obviously the leader – pointed at me and said "Arrest her!" I was deliberately picked out. During my interrogation, it emerged that I had been under observation for some time as a "political subject" and that I was being shadowed.

What were you accused of?

Sadr: It was claimed that I had a leading role in the resistance. The interior ministry officials who were interrogating me said that the so-called "velvet revolution" had many arms. The women's arm was led by me and by people like Shirin Ebadi. There was no legal declaration, the investigators simply formulated a political indictment against all the activists with social movements. They accused these people of wanting to initiate a "velvet revolution."

You are mainly known as a women's rights activist. How has the situation for women changed in the last few years, compared to how it was in the Khatami period?

Women protesting in Iran (photo: Meydaan News/DW)
The Ahmadinejad regime is trying to reduce women's rights even further and to discredit activists as "velvet revolutionaries" under foreign control

​​ Sadr: Nothing has improved. Even under Khatami, things weren't good for women, but there was a more open social atmosphere. Women could enjoy a bit more freedom since there was superficially a policy of involving women more in society.

Now, under Ahmadinejad, they want women to disappear completely from public life and force them back into their homes. This restrictive policy includes changes to the law. For example, for some time there have been legal attempts to reintroduce polygamy. In addition, under Ahamdinejad the activities of the moral police have been significantly expanded. Students and working woman are repeatedly subject to repression.

You say there are systematic human rights abuses and crimes against humanity in Iran. Isn't that an issue for the International Criminal Court?

Sadr: It's my opinion that we in Iran can look back on a long tradition of human rights abuses. Now we have to examine what went on after the elections and see if there's some kind of system to it. I can say from my own experience that in the interior ministry prison, the Evin prison, in which I was held, torture took place. So I could appear as a witness.

Shadi Sadr (photo: Meydaan News/DW)
Sadr's abduction and imprisonment caused an international storm of protest. She was released from the Evin prison at the end of July on bail of around 53,000 euros

​​In addition I have heard repeatedly about cases of torture, stoning and rape. But the problem with pursuing crimes against humanity legally is to show that there is some kind of system behind them. Under the difficult conditions we are faced with, we find it hard to collect evidence for such a claim.

There's a big difference: on the one side there's the political definition, and on the other, the legal definition, which requires proof that the actions are systematic. First one has to find out the truth of the individual cases – that's the first step if one wants to ensure that one will reach justice. In practice that means that we have to collect cases and examine them.

How do you see the current state of the Iranian protest movement?

Sadr: It's a dangerous time. Every day sees protest put down again. It's made to look as if nothing has happened, as if the big protests hadn't taken place. We have to ask now what every individual can do to prevent the incidents from being swept under the carpet – whether we need a European Union commission of inquiry, or whether we need reports in the media. We have to stay active in the West as well. It's important that the windows to Iran don't get closed. The human rights abuses must not be allowed to be forgotten.

Interview: Ariana Mirza

© 2009

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