U.S. News

U.S. group urges Iran to free women activists

LONDON (Reuters) - A U.S.-based rights group has called on Iran to drop “politically motivated” charges against two Iranian women’s rights activists facing trial for taking part in a protest and said they should be freed immediately.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said the two women were active in a drive to collect one million signatures in favor of greater female rights. They were among a group of women detained in March during a protest. The other women were later released.

Campaigners say Iran discriminates against women, a charge Tehran denies. Western diplomats in Iran and rights groups see the crackdown on women as part of broader moves against dissent.

“There seems to be no end in sight to the Iranian government’s persecution of women’s rights activists,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement sent to Reuters on Monday night.

Court hearings on December 18 and December 19 have been set for Jelveh Javahari and Maryam Hosseinkhah, the group said.

“Iran should drop politically motivated charges against two women’s rights activists facing trial this week because of their participation in a peaceful protest,” Human Rights Watch said.

It said both women should be released without delay from Tehran’s Evin Prison, where they are now being held.

Javahari was charged in December with “disturbing the public opinion,” “propaganda against the order,” and “publishing lies via the publication of false news,” the group said, adding that similar charges were made against Hosseinkhah in November.

In Tehran, an Iranian judiciary official told Reuters the cases of Javahari and Hosseinkhah were being handled by a Revolutionary Court but gave no further details.

Western governments and human rights groups have accused the Islamic Republic, under international pressure over its nuclear program, of taking a tougher line on dissent in general.

Iran routinely dismisses accusations of rights violations and says it is acting on the basis of Islamic sharia law.

In a separate case, an Iranian judge earlier said two women arrested in a Kurdish region were accused of being members of a rebel group and of involvement in bombings, Iranian media said.

“The government has not provided a shred of evidence to suggest that Ronak Safazadeh and Hana Abdi have done anything except campaign peacefully for the rights of Iranian women,” Whitson said in the Human Rights Watch statement.