Hostage to her beliefs

By Diana Plater

I read recently that the daughter of Iran’s former president, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, had been sentenced to six months in prison for spreading “propaganda against the Islamic system”.

The sentencing of Faezeh Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former member of parliament turned political activist, was the latest move to stamp out potential dissent ahead of elections in March, the report said.
I remember meeting Ms Hashemi in 2000 several months before the Sydney Olympics. She and a colleague were sitting at the back of the audience of an international sports and human rights conference held in Bondi.
They stood out there because they were covered from head to foot in black chadors.
I waited that whole day to interview her for WIN (Women’s International Net Magazine), for whom I was Australian correspondent, believing she would have an interesting story to tell.
At the time she was the member for Parliament for Tehran, having received 800,000 votes in 1996. She had also founded the women’s newspaper, Zan.
“(My father’s) fame and also his name somehow was influential,” Ms Hashemi told me at the time. “(But) I personally was well known because of my previous social activities, especially for focussing on women’s issues, youth, and also on sport. Most people know me well from this.”
She was then the Vice Chairperson of the Iranian National Olympic Committee and Chairperson of the Council for Female Sports of the Islamic Countries and during our interview I learnt she had spent many years pushing for Muslim women to become more involved in sport, both in her native Iran and outside.
She was here in Sydney partly to convince the International Olympic Committee (IOC) organisers to allow Islamic dress during competition, in order to pave the way for Muslim women’s participation in the 2000 Olympics.
She believed the role of sport in Muslim women’s lives was not just a matter of personal choice but a fundamental human right.
And for this reason she had been lobbying the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to respect the dress codes of Islamic society.

Because the Olympics then did not recognise these dress codes, more than 30 Muslim countries – particularly the Arab states – could not take part.
Ms Hashemi told me Iran’s constitution paid detailed attention to the high values of physical education and sports, as an effective educational plan, “which provides physical and mental wellbeing for the society in general and women and mothers in particular”.
In the Atlanta Olympics, Iran had one woman shooter, who carried her country’s flag. Only in the sports of canoeing, shooting, table tennis and athletics did the women’s uniforms match the Islamic dress code.
For these reasons, alternative games, only for women, were held in Iran.
Since then, while Ms Hashemi prefers to wear the chador herself, she has been a staunch advocate of the relaxation of the strict dress code, as she believes women should be able to decide for themselves what they wear.
The latest court case arose from election protests held in Iran in June, 2009, when she was reported as having addressed a crowd at a banned opposition rally in Tehran. She was subsequently prohibited from leaving the country. According to Iranian state media, she was arrested and briefly detained on June 20 (together with four relatives), and again on February 20, 2010 after “making blunt statements and chanting provocative slogans”.
Ms Hashemi has been a sharp critic of the present government led by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
BBC News reported that her trial took place behind closed doors. And her punishment may be turned into a suspended jail term on appeal, as often happens with opponents of the Iranian authorities.
Ms Hashemi has given interviews in recent months in which she defended her father’s position – and this appears to be her offence, BBC News said.
The influential Rafsanjani clan has been longtime kingmakers within Iran’s political elite, and according to time.com Ms Hashemi infuriates the regime by championing her father’s politics, seen by some as being pro-American.
It’s a particularly sensitive time in this part of the world, as Iran faces a possible oil embargo and trade threats with the United States and the British Navy has sent its largest sea contingent to the Gulf. So the Iranian government does not want the world to witness internal divisions in the lead up to the elections.
Ms Hashemi, who has been harassed in public, has 20 days to appeal the verdict against her.
While I’m the first to admit my lack of knowledge of Iranian politics, I remember her as an elegant, attractive and outspoken woman and a strong advocate for women’s rights, so deserving of other women’s support.
Among many others arrested in the 2009 protests, she was mentioned in a report by Amnesty International, Iran: Election Contested, Repression Compounded.
Amnesty however is not working on her case. If you would like to show solidarity to her and others arrested in election protests you can write to the Iranian authorities directly, condemning her sentence and persecution. The target details are:
Leader of the Islamic Republic
Ayatollah Sayed ‘Ali Khamenei
The Office of the Supreme Leader
Islamic Republic Street – End of Shahid Keshvar Doust Street
Islamic Republic of Iran
*Diana Plater is a journalist, writer, playwright and media consultant based in Sydney. You can read her blog, Landscapes, at www.dianaplater.com

Source: http://store-archive.blogspot.com/2012/01/hostage-to-her-beliefsby-diana-plater.html