On June 29, 2022, Freedom Now and the international law firm Dechert LLP filed a petition with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on behalf of Iranian women’s rights activists Saba Kord Afshari and Raheleh Ahmadi. The petition argues that Iran’s detention of Kord Afshari and Ahmadi infringes on their legitimate exercise of their right to freedom of expression, a direct violation of their rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“Saba Kord Afshari and Raheleh Ahmadi were imprisoned for peacefully protesting Iran’s forced-veiling laws and discrimination against women. Their detention is a clear attempt by the Iranian government to silence marginalized voices,” said Freedom Now Legal Officer Adam Lhedmat. “We are confident that the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention will conclude that their fundamental human rights have been violated and that they should be released immediately.”
Prior to her arrest, Kord Afshari regularly joined protests known as White Wednesdays, a campaign in which women wore white to protest the compulsory-veiling laws. She often published videos on social media of herself without a hijab. Her efforts were supported by other female activists, including Ahmadi, her mother. Kord Afshari was previously arrested in August 2018 for taking part in anti-corruption protests. She was sentenced to one year and released in February 2019 as part of a mass pardon.
Kord Afshari’s most recent arrest came after she published a video in April 2019 with her mother in support of Yasaman Aryani, a fellow activist who had recently been arrested and forcibly disappeared for protesting the hijab law. In the video, Kord Afshari appears without a hijab.
Kord Afshari was arrested on June 1, 2019 during a raid on her home. She was charged with “gathering and collusion against national security” through supporting political prisoners, “propaganda against the state” through collaborating with opposition and subversive groups, and “promoting corruption and prostitution” through appearing without a headscarf in public. Following the arrested she was held in solitary confinement and incommunicado for nearly two weeks. During her detention, Kord Afshari was interrogated and asked to record videos denouncing the White Wednesday movement and confessing to her alleged crimes. She refused to do so, despite threats to her family.
Ahmadi was arrested on July 10, 2019, an act apparently calculated to coerce a confession from Kord Afshari. She was charged with “propaganda against the state,” “promoting corruption and prostitution,” and “assembly and collusion to act against the national security.” She was released on bail four days after her arrest.
Kord Afshari’s her trial began on August 19, 2019. She was not given access to a lawyer prior to the proceedings and only met her legal counsel for the first time at the trial. Her lawyer was allowed access to parts of her case file only one hour before trial, and parts of her file were censored under the pretext of confidentiality. She was sentenced to 24 years in prison on August 27. After numerous appeals, her sentence was reduced to five years on April 29, 2022. She is currently detained in Qarchak Prison, where female political prisoners are intermingled with violent criminals. She reportedly suffers from chronic stomach disorders and ulcers, as well as anxiety attacks, which cause muscle contractions and require immediate injections and oxygen therapy. She has not received adequate medical treatment while in prison. She has also contracted COVID-19 at least twice. Moreover, she has been the victim of violent attacks by both guards and inmates.
On December 16, 2019, Ahmadi was convicted on December 16, 2019 and sentenced to 2 years and 7 months in prison. In November 2021, she was given an additional charge of “propaganda activities against the state” after “publishing statements on websites hostile to the Iranian government, while in detention.” She began serving her sentence in February 2020 and is currently detained in Evin Prison.