Book Club Members in Iran Sentenced to Prison Time for Allegedly “Promoting Feminism”
Eight political and civil rights activists have received sentences of up to four years in prison for allegedly reading and spreading feminist literature in Iran—two years after the charges were laid and during a mass trial that limited their defenses to three written sentences.
“For two years, there was no news until suddenly they were told to appear in court on May 14,” and informed source told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI). “They all showed up with their lawyers. The judge had a pleasant demeanor, but did not allow anyone to present a defense. All he did was give every defendant a piece of paper and asked them to write only three sentences in their own defense.”
“All of them wrote they are innocent,” he added. “Then, one of the lawyers started to speak in defense of his client, but the judge said he had heard enough and ordered everyone to clear the courtroom.”
Continued the source: “That day, all the defendants felt their cases were insignificant and were confident that the judge would dismiss them, but unfortunately, all of them received prison sentences.”
On September 17, 2015, seven men from Andimeshk, Khuzestan Province —Ali Nejadi, Ezzatollah Jafari, Abdolreza Shakeri Roshan, Shapour Rashno, Ashraf Rahim-Khani, Ali Mohammad Jahangiri and Pejman Mirzavand—were arrested at their homes by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Intelligence Organization and accused of participating in a reading club organized by the city’s Mother Bookstore and “promoting feminism.”
They were released on bail between one to two months later, but the bookstore was sealed by the authorities, the source told CHRI.
At an unknown later date, Zeinab Keshvari, Shapour Rashno’s wife, was arrested and added as a c-odefendant to the case for speaking out against the arrests.
Keshvari, who was three-months pregnant the night her husband was arrested, suffered a miscarriage shortly afterwards.
The eight were put on trial at Branch 2 of the Revolutionary Court in Dezful on May 14, 2017 and their lawyers were verbally informed of the verdict on May 21: prison sentences ranging from 29 days to four years.
Sentenced for Reading Books
About the circumstances surrounding the case, the source explained: “The owner of the Mother Bookstore in Andimeshk had organized a weekly reading club. Every Sunday, a group of folks gathered and discussed the books they had read. It’s a small bookstore. It has enough space for seven or eight chairs, so only a few people attended.”
Added the source: “The books were all published with permission from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, on topics such as personal psychology, Iranian lifestyles, domestic violence and gender discrimination. To encourage reading, anyone who had read a book and discussed it at a meeting received a free book as a gift. The store also hosted meetings about women and enterprise, which became very popular.”
“Nobody did anything wrong,” said the source. “The bookstore was created in 2010 and was well-established. But it seems the IRGC does not appreciate group activities in small towns, so they rounded everyone up. Also, the bookstore has since been shut down and the employees have lost their livelihood.”