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Iran urged to halt "crackdown" on women activists

GENEVA (Reuters) - U.N. human rights investigators called on Iran Thursday to end what they called a “crackdown” on women’s rights activists who have been harassed and detained for seeking equal status in the Islamic Republic.

An Iranian woman looks on as she takes part in a rally outside the United Nations office in northern Tehran November 9, 2007. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl

Women and men involved in a grassroots movement to collect 1 million signatures to demand full equality between women and men in Iran have been “particularly targeted,” they said.

“Over the past two years, women’s rights defenders have faced an increasingly difficult situation and harassment in the course of their non-violent activities,” the two independent experts said in a statement.

Some have been prevented from travelling in the ongoing “serious repression,” according to Margaret Sekaggya, U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, and Yakin Erturk, special rapporteur on violence against women.

“Peaceful demonstrators have been arrested, detained and persecuted with prison sentences having been imposed on many of them,” they said.

Dozens of activists were detained since the launch of a campaign in 2006 to demand changes to laws denying women equal rights in matters such as divorce and child custody. Most were freed after a few days or weeks.

Iran says it follows sharia, Islamic law, and denies accusations that it discriminates against women.

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An Iranian-American student, Esha Momeni, was detained on security-related charges in mid-October during a visit to Iran from the United States to see family and carry out research on the women’s movement in Iran. She was freed on bail last week.

The independent investigators, who are both women, report to the U.N. Human Rights Council.

They urged Iran to comply with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which guarantees fundamental freedoms including the right to opinion and peaceful association.

Iran is among 163 countries to have ratified that treaty.

“Women’s participation in public life to promote an equal treatment of women and men in the Islamic Republic of Iran should be encouraged as a means to build a stronger and healthier society,” the investigators said.

Editing by Laura MacInnis