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Amnesty International Calls for Iran to End Gender Discrimination

An Amnesty International report is calling for Iranian authorities to stop harassing women human rights defenders and take urgent steps to dismantle discriminatory legislation. Tendai Maphosa reports for VOA from London.

Iranian women are getting more vocal in their demands for equality before the law. The Amnesty International report says dozens of activists and supporters have been arrested in connection with their activities for the Campaign for Equality, founded in 2006.

As of January 2008, the Campaign's website had been blocked by the authorities at least seven times, the report says.

Amnesty's Ann Harrison explained some of the laws that have caused Iranian women to risk arrest and harassment by the authorities.

"There are a number of areas of life in Iran where women are discriminated against, they are discriminated against in the civil code and areas of marriage and divorce, women can be married at the age of 13 or even younger if their parents apply to a court," she explained. "Women have much less rights to divorce their husbands, [and] there are also issues of child custody. A woman's weight of testimony in court is only worth half that of a man's, and ... actual compensation for injury is half that of a man."

The report also says what it calls legalized discrimination excludes women from the most senior positions of state and appointment as judges.

VOA asked Harrison if some of the laws were rooted in the Islamic faith. She said the campaigners do not see any clash between their demands and Islamic law, and says some clerics have actually come out in their support.

"They point to the fact that senior Ayatollahs have issued fatwas [edicts], which suggest that these kind of changes can be made within Islam," she said.

The Amnesty International report mentions Ronak Safarzadeh and Hana Abdi - two Kurdish-Iranian activists arrested in 2007 for peacefully exercising their rights. It says they are being detained without charge or trial and are being denied access to a lawyer.

The human rights organization also published details of 12 women's rights activists, 11 women and one man, who are currently being detained or are otherwise facing persecution because of their peaceful efforts to lobby for legislative change.

The report calls for the government, Iran's parliament, and the judicial authorities to abide by Iran's international obligations to uphold women's rights and end legal and other discrimination.