۱۳۸۸ مهر ۲۲, چهارشنبه
My Speech at the Alexander Langer Award ceremony for Nargess Mohamadi
Ladies and Gentlemen, I am very honored to be here today at this ceremony to celebrate the International Alexander Langer Award, which goes this year to Ms Nargess Mohammadi and the “Center for Human Rights Defenders” in Iran. This award is undoubtedly an encouragement for all brave Iranian women who are fighting for human rights in Iran and are trying to improve their situations despite all the problems and restrictions imposed on them. I am a young woman coming from Iran. Iran is a very dynamic society which is undergoing constant and rapid change. Despite all the limitations and restrictions imposed on women in Iran, today more than 65 percent of university students are female. In some fields like medicine, the change has been so significant that the Ministry of Education is considering setting a quota for male students to limit the number of females. I remember in 2001, when I was accepted to law school, we had a welcome session on the first day at university. The session was held in a large hall with three columns of chairs. The girls were seated in the left and middle columns and the boys on the right. The ceremony was co-chaired by a man and a woman. The woman, started her greetings by saying: “My dear students, welcome to your university. I am particularly proud this year for the high percentage of female students admitted to our university. God willingly, this column (pointing to the column of boys) will also be conquered by the girls next year”. At this point all the girls in the hall started to clap and then the man jokingly told her “OK, so now you want to make this university officially a female school ” University started and we took the courses one after another including civil law, family law and inheritance law. The problem for me and for many other students was in the family law, the Penal Code, and the law of criminal procedure. We could not understand why the compensation named as blood money given to a woman should be half that of a man, For example, when a man and a women are hit and injured by a car, the compensation given to the woman is half of that received by the man. We could not understand why polygamy was allowed for men or why the right to divorce was only given to husbands. Why the testimony of a women was worth half that of a man? The irony was that whereas in other realms such as inheritance, custody over children, marriage, divorce, ownership and the ability to be a witness, women are considered less able than men, when it comes to punishments and criminal responsibility they are suddenly considered much more mature and able than men and hence according to Iran's penal code, the age of criminal responsibility for girls is six years lower than boys. Whereas boys become criminally responsible at the age of fifteen, girls are considered responsible at the age of nine. That means that if a nine-year-old girl commits a crime,she would face the same punishment as a forty-year-old women who has committed the same crime. Honor killings exists in the law only for men. According to the law, if a man finds his wife in bed with another man, he has the right to kill them both. These and many other questions were raised for us. Some of our professors agreed with our criticisms of the existing laws. Acknowledging the distinction between religion and sharia, they clarified that religion is a series of principles and rules on monotheism, moral principles and values. It consists of the general Dos and Don’ts. Religion is not limited to any particular time and place. Hence it is fixed and ever-lasting. Sharia, on the other hand, is made of a series of practical rules which are limited to a particular time and place. Therefore, it is changeable. Regarding the distinction between sharia and Islam, An-Na’im, an Islamic scholar, argues that:"sharia is made by the early Muslim juristsfrom Islam’s main and secondary sources and is not the same as Islam. Hence, one can criticize sharia without infringing Islam.” It should be noted that not all of our professors had this reformist view. Many were not happy with our criticism and argued that this is what has been decided by God and on-one is allowed to question His rules. University days passed and I remember the peaceful demonstration of the people against the fraudulent election of Ahamdinjead which was responded with beating and in some cases shooting of protestors. In this demonstration brave girls, stood hand in hand in the front line against the government guards . I'm so proud and honored to say that I'm coming from a country where women in every profession, including law, politics, journalism, arts and cinema are among the most prominent ones.The women's movement in Iran has been so strong that even made Ahmadinejad, who is known for his extreme traditionalist views, to propose three female ministers, in order to gain legitimacy for his cabinet. "The campaign for One Million Signatures” in Iran is part of the women's movement. This campaign demands changes to the discriminatory laws in Iran. The campaign has been severely suppressed by the government: its members have been jailed and its website blocked. Charges against members range from acting against the national security of the state and propaganda, to membership in the One Million Signature Campaign itself. However, this did not stop its members from their activities. These activities include informing people bout the discriminatory laws and gathering signatures against these laws. The lawyers of the campaign also defend people who are affected by the discriminatory laws. According to Dr Shirin Ebadi, one of its founders, this campaign does not have a leader and a central bureau. Rather its bureau is in the heart of every single brave Iranian women who fights for human rights. The committee of the “mourning mothers” is another part of women's movement in Iran. The committee is made up of mothers whose children have either been killed, injured, arrested or lost in the peaceful demonstration against the fraudulent presidential election and all other women who supportand sympathize with them. In order to show their protest to the government, these women gather every Saturdays in one of their local parks and demonstrate their protest only through their gathering. urprisingly, the government did not even tolerate this gathering and attacked the silent congregation of the mourning mothers. Now, Iranian women outside Iran gather every week in one of their local parks to show their support and solidarity with the mourning mothers. At the end,I would like to mention the role of Ms Nargess Mohammadi, who is this year's laureate of Alexander Langer Award. This brave Iranian woman, who is also the mother of two children, has been a social activist since she was a university student. She was jailed many times for her activities for woman's rights. Her husband, Mr Taghi Rahmani, who is a political activist, was jailed for fourteen years. However, this hardship, rather than stopping Nargess from pursuing her path, made her stronger and more determined. After the establishment of the “Center for Human Rights defenders” in Iran, Nargess started her close co-operation with this NGO and she is now among its board of directors and also its spokesperson. After the establishment of “the National Council for Peace” Nargess became the head of the Implementation Task Force of the council. Nargess plays an important role in the feminism movement in Iran. Recently, with the help of her other colleagues she launched a campaign against capital punishment for children in Iran. As I mentioned earlier, the age for criminal responsibility in Iran is very low. Hence, unfortunately there are many children who face capital punishment in Iran. The goal of this campaign is to pressure the government to abolish child execution. It should be noted that there are many women like Nargess Mohammadi in Iran, who fight for human rights. Let us look forward to the day when they all succeed in their fight.