Memorandum submitted by Elizabeth Sidney,
INQUIRY INTO THE ROLES AND POLICIES OF THE
FCO IN RELATION TO IRAN
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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