Iran's brutal morality police are growing in power, warns Nobel Prize-winner

Zahra Bani Yaghoub was sitting on a park bench chatting to her fiancé when Iranian religious police arrived and arrested the couple. They were carted off to jail and held in separate cells. The fiancé was released but the body of Ms Bani Yaghoub, a 27-year-old doctor, was delivered to her family two days later.

Under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's feared morality police have been acting with renewed vigour against what they consider to be unIslamic behaviour. Although the doctor's death last October is widely known among Iranians because they have internet access, the case received only a brief mention in the state-run media.

Shirin Ebadi, a Tehran-based lawyer who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for her tireless defence of human rights, is now seeking justice in the case.

Yesterday, she warned that the morality police, who frequently stop women in the street to accuse them of wearing headscarves that are too skimpy, are now threatening to enter the offices of private companies in their Islamic zeal.

Ms Ebadi also said that human rights in Iran had regressed over the past eight years – from the persecution of homosexuals to the recent arrests of leaders of the Bahai religious sect, to bus drivers jailed for protesting over low pay.

Speaking in London, the Nobel laureate said: "They claimed [Ms Bani Yaghoub] committed suicide in prison, which is a lie. In prison they even take your watchbands and shoelaces from you. Her family believes she was tortured and died as a result. That's my reading, too.

"Whatever they do is illegal. The question is who is responsible for these illegal actions? These people are committing crimes and therefore should be held accountable by the courts. But the courts are not independent. They are not doing their job properly."

In Ms Bani Yahgoub's case, Ms Ebadi points out, not only the police but also the judges who jailed her were acting incorrectly. But the courts are protected by the government, she said, adding: "If that were not the case, these judges would have been arrested by now."

Another of her clients, the student Amir Yaghoub-Ali, 22, was jailed last week for campaigning for women's rights. The charges against him included spreading propaganda against the state. He was detained while promoting the One Million Signatures petition, which calls for an end to discrimination against Iran's women.

"We are told they were arrested because they were working against national security, but they say that about anyone," added Ms Ebadi. "I sometimes think the Iranian government is suffering from a phobia. They think everyone wishes to overthrow the government. When bus drivers protest against low wages, they are thrown in prison."

Ms Ebadi's strategy is to oblige Iranian officials to live up to their international obligations, through the law and the courts. Despite continued death threats, she keeps plugging away.

She came to London to publish an English version of a book on refugee rights in Iran. Many of Iran's one million Afghan refugees have not been given residency permits, so they cannot open bank accounts or send their children to school.

Ms Ebadi insists the issue is not the government's apparent paranoia about the spread of Western values. "The Iranian government has joined international conventions and says it recognises those human rights provisions as international values, not as Western values," she said. "So under no condition can they claim these are Western values."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Belong: Volunteer Mentor for Offenders

This is a volunteer role with paid expenses : Belong: Seeking volunteers who c...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Apprentice Telesales & Marketing Opportunities

£10400 - £14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing, ambitious, en...

Day In a Page

Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests