Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Elizabeth Sidney, INLW


  I am very pleased that the Foreign Affairs Committee has set up this inquiry. I share the concern of the 335 Members of Parliament and 61 Members of the House of Lords regarding Iran's flouting of human rights and the Government's decision, despite this, to grant Iran full and unconditional diplomatic recognition.

  I am particularly concerned about the regime's extremely brutal and misogynist treatment of women.


  The National Council of Resistance of Iran approached me in the mid 1980's, when I was President of the Women Liberal Democrats. They supplied accounts and photographs which seemed to me convincing evidence of a pathological persecution of women. Since then I have campaigned as an individual and as an Officer of Women Liberal Democrats and now of the International Network of Liberal Women, to draw attention to this aspect of the Iranian regime. I speak regularly at NCRI Conferences and know several people in the Mojahedin. The persecution of women is not an aspect of the regime which receives much UK publicity. It appears not to be a matter of great concern to the FCO.


  Much of the information I receive comes from NCRI, sometimes verbal accounts from members and otherwise from their publications. In evaluating this material, I have always preferred direct quotes from newspapers, including official Tehrani newspapers, and from the Iranian Ministries. Among western papers, the Washington Post, Boston Globe and International Herald Tribune carry apparently objective reports, as does Time Magazine and (occasionally) the British Sunday Times, Observer, Independent, and Economist. I have heard verbal accounts of the treatment of women prisoners from Iranian women in UK and USA.

  Much precise information is to be found in Lord Avebury's books, the latest of which, Fatal Writ, details the extraordinary web of deceits and cover-ups concerning internal trials, confessions obtained under torture and terrorist activities abroad.


  I attach:

    —  A memorandum dealing particularly with the mullahs' treatment of women.

    —  A copy of a book, Misogyny in Power, which contains reports and speeches on the same subject by a number of people. My speech to this year's Annual Conference of the Women's Committee of NCRI is included (pages 63-79).

    —  My people of Today entry.


  In this submission I have concentrated on the treatment of women. There are, of course, many other serious questions which the Inquiry will no doubt investigate. In particular, I hope it will consider:

    —  Why the FCO believed the regime would become more liberal when the Iranian Constitution virtually precludes this and Khatami himself has affirmed allegiance to the Supreme Leader.

    —  What confidence can be placed in trade agreements with an economy in such a parlous state (although it has, of course, recently greatly increased its budget for defence).

    —  Why the Government supplied the Revolutionary Guard with night vision equipment to assist in tracking down drug traffickers when a renegade ex-member of the Guard, Akbar Ganji, had already affirmed in a Tehran newspaper (Arya 3.1.00) that trafficking is promoted by the Ministry of Intelligence itself.

  I also hope the Inquiry will look into the mullahs' continuing large subsidy of Hezbollah which maintains attacks on Israel despite the peace accord with Libya. Is this how we intended the UK subsidy of the regime to be spent?

  I am sending a copy of this submission to David Chidgey MP, who is the Liberal Democrat representative on the inquiry.

  I would be happy to give oral evidence if required.

Elizabeth Sidney OBE,


Memorandum on the Iranian Mullah's Treatment of Women submitted by Elizabeth Sidney

  Shari'a Law, as interpreted by the mullah's regime, grants women very limited rights. Currently, in Iran:

    1.  Girls can be married at age nine (boys must be 15). Official Iranian figures put the number of married school girls under the age of 14 at 52,478 (15 per cent of all marriages). Since girls are considered "mature" at nine, they are also considered subject to adult criminal codes and punishments. This includes stoning to death; six women have been stoned since Khatami came to power.

    2.  Women are decreed to be the possession of their husbands. The husband decides where they will live, what work outside the home his wife can undertake and whether she can leave the home at all. He can divorce her without explanation and still retain custody of their children, a son at the age of two and a daughter at the age of seven. Foreign divorces are accepted for men but not for women. A widow receives by law very little of her husband's assets and may be left penniless.

    3.  A woman cannot open a bank account and it is almost impossible for her to rent living accommodation on her own; she cannot travel abroad without the consent of a male relative.

    4.  In court, a woman's testimony is valued at half that of a man.

    5.  Female musicians and singers are banned from performing in public.

    6.  A recent statement on Iranian State TV (4.7.00) by the Adviser to the Health Minister affirmed that "a letter of consent from women in custody of children or managing single parent families is legally worthless, even in cases where a child may need an urgent surgical operation". 15 per cent of Iranian families are headed by lone-parent women. Combined with the gender segregation of medical services (see below) this makes the plight of such families desperate.

  These constraints virtually promote domestic violence. Professor Copithorne, the Special Representative to Iran of the United Nations Human Rights Commission, has reported that domestic violence is on the increase and mentions that some cases are "horrific". Nevertheless, a woman taking a violent husband to court is likely to be told that she should not have provoked him.


  Under President Khatami, the reformer, persecution of women has worsened. There has been some liberalisation of the dress code for women and some permitted public meeting of the sexes. Much is made of these changes. However, they appear only in Tehran. Elsewhere, there are continuing reports of women being arrested and beaten for "malveiling".

  The dress code has health implications. The Iranian Students' News Agency reported (25.7.00) a survey of 1,500 school girls in which 97 per cent (1,450) were found to be suffering from serious bone disorders such as osteoporosis and deformed pelvis, along with skin infections. These disorders are attributed to long, heavy clothing, continuous wearing of head scarves and lack of exercise. In April 1999 the Training Deputy of Iranian Education Ministry admitted that the physical strength of 17-year-old girls was equivalent to that of nine-year-old girls, due to lack of possibilities for physical exercise.

  Khatami has presided over three measures particularly detrimental to women, all dating from 1998:

    —  The Mullahs' refusal to sign CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women) on the grounds that treating women as equals is "blasphemous".

    —  The passing of the Women and Press Law, forbidding discussion of women's rights in the media.

    —  The passing of a law requiring gender segregation of all medical services.

  This last law has already had serious consequences. It has gravely reduced medical facilities available to women. It extends to all forms of health provision including provision for teachers to train women doctors. In January 2000, students at the only all-female medical school (Fatamieh Medical School) went on strike against the poor quality of training they were receiving.

  In December 1999 a member of the Tehran Medical School's Scientific Board told a Conference in Hamshahri 1.12.99 that "the high mortality rate among pregnant women (was) not due to lack of professional manpower but . . . to inequitable distribution of health services." High maternal morbidity and mortality are also, of course, linked to early marriage and multiple pregnancies.

  Under Khatami, girls' education has also been seriously neglected. On July 8, 2000, the Under Secretary for Women's Affairs at the Education Ministry reported that 1.6 million girls were out of school, "due to shortage of facilities". Women form only 10 per cent of University Students. Women's illiteracy is now said to be 70 per cent.

  The treatment of women prisoners strongly resembles the treatment of Jews in the Nazi concentration camps. A brief account appears on pages 68-69 of the accompanying book and the chapter Heroines in Chains (p 107-142) is devoted to the subject. Rape by prison guards is standard. One torture, keeping women blindfold for months in cages so small they cannot sit cross-legged nor walk on release, was admitted by former Revolutionary Guards in a newspaper interview last December (Payam-Azadi, 29.12.99).

  In Iran, as in most countries, women are over-represented among the poor. They form only 9 per cent of the paid working population. The Bahar Daily, a government sponsored paper, reported on 30 July that 35 per cent of the population were now living below the poverty line. (Meanwhile, in the national budget for 2000, "order and security" has received a 54.5 per cent increase and "defence" 31 per cent.) Women have been prominent in many recent uprisings against intolerable living conditions, such as the authorities' failure to maintain drinkable water supplies in major cities.


  Not surprisingly, many young women seek to escape from their desperate situation. There is a continuing illegal exodus of people from the country; a high proportion of new recruits to NCRI are women. Those remaining take to drugs: official figures report 140,000 known women addicts. Muhammad Ali Zam, a government official, reported to Tehran City Councillors on 3 July 2000 that many school girls are running away, and 97 per cent of them became prostitutes.

  The final resort is suicide. In September 1999 the daily Khordad reported a 37 per cent rise in attempted suicide, of which 81 per cent were women. The suicide rate is up by 100 per cent on last year, the majority of cases being women aged 15-30.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 13 February 2001