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Iran women activists get suspended lashing sentences

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Three Iranian women’s rights campaigners have received suspended lashing and jail sentences for taking part in a rally, a fellow activist said on Tuesday.

It was the latest sign of the authorities clamping down on activists demanding greater women’s rights in the conservative Islamic Republic, which rejects Western accusations it is discriminating against women.

“Women’s rights activists particularly object to sentences that include lashing,” said Sussan Tahmasebi, who herself is appealing a partly suspended two-year prison sentence for involvement in a banned demonstration in the capital in 2006.

“These sentences are intended to embarrass and humiliate human rights activists,” she told Reuters.

She said Minou Mortazi, Nasrin Afzali and Nahid Jafari were sentenced to six months in jail and 10 lashes for attending a gathering outside a Tehran court in March last year where Tahmasebi and three other activists were standing trial.

The sentences were suspended so they will only be carried out if they are found guilty of another crime within two years.

A fourth activist who attended the March event, Zeinab Payghambarzadeh, was handed a two-year suspended jail term.

The court issued its ruling on the cases of Afzali, Jafari and Payghambarzadeh a few days ago while Mortazi received her sentence about two months ago.

They were all charged with taking part in an illegal gathering and collusion with the intent to disrupt national security, disruption of public order and refusal to follow police orders, Tahmasebi added.

“They are going to appeal their sentences,” Tahmasebi said. “I think they are unjust. It was a peaceful demonstration.”

A judiciary spokesman had no immediate comment on the cases.

Women are legally entitled to hold most jobs in Iran, but it remains dominated by men.

Activists, backed by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, say women face institutionalized discrimination that makes them “second-class citizens” when it comes to divorce, inheritance, child custody and other aspects of life.

Iranian officials reject allegations of discrimination against women. Clerics say women in Iran are protected from the sex-symbol status they have in the West and insist the Islamic state is implementing God’s divine law.

Western diplomats see the detention of women activists as part of a wider crackdown on dissent, which they say may be in response to international pressure over Iran’s nuclear work. Tehran rejects Western accusations it is seeking to build bombs.

Editing by Richard Meares