Anti-headscarf law activist sues Iran in US over harassment

Masih Alinejad’s lawsuit seeking monetary damages comes in the aftermath of nationwide protests in Iran over spiking gasoline prices that reportedly killed at least 208 people in November. (File/AFP)
Updated 05 December 2019

Anti-headscarf law activist sues Iran in US over harassment

  • Alinejad, who recently published an autobiography, fled the country after the disputed 2009 presidential election and crackdown
  • She is a prominent figure on Farsi-language satellite channels abroad that critically view Iran

DUBAI: An Iranian-American activist famous for her campaign against Iran’s mandatory headscarf, or hijab, for women has sued Iran in US federal court, alleging a government-led harassment campaign targets her and her family.
Masih Alinejad’s lawsuit seeking monetary damages comes in the aftermath of nationwide protests in Iran over spiking gasoline prices that reportedly killed at least 208 people in November.
Dissent continues as Iranian authorities separately said on Thursday that they broke up a plot to cause a gas explosion at a student dormitory at a Tehran university.
But even before the latest unrest, authorities had already announced that women face a possible 10-year prison sentence for sending videos to Alinejad’s “White Wednesday” civil disobedience campaign against the mandatory head covering.
The harassment, including the imprisoning of her brother, was to “preclude Ms. Masih Alinejad from continuing her career as a journalist, author, and political activist working to criticize the Iranian government and bring international attention to the regime’s human rights abuses, in particular women’s rights,” alleges her lawsuit, filed on Monday in Washington.
Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Alinejad, who recently published an autobiography, fled the country after the disputed 2009 presidential election and crackdown. She is a prominent figure on Farsi-language satellite channels abroad that critically view Iran and has worked as a contractor for US-funded Voice of America’s Farsi-language network since 2015, according to the lawsuit. Alinejad, who lives in Brooklyn, became a US citizen in October.
Her “White Wednesday” and “My Stealthy Freedom” campaigns have seen women film themselves without hijabs in public in Iran, which can bring arrests and fines. But there have been signs of women increasingly pushing back against the requirement.
During a trip to Iran in July, an Associated Press journalist spotted about two dozen women in the streets without a hijab over the course of nine days. Many other women opted for loosely draped colorful scarves that show as much hair as they cover.
While there have been women fined and arrested, others have been left alone as Iran struggles with economic problems and other issues under re-imposed US sanctions following President Donald Trump pulling out of Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers.
In recent weeks, Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard seized and began torturing her brother Alireza Alinejad-Ghomi, the suit alleges.
State television officials and security forces have pressured her mother as well, who at one point “threatened to pour gasoline on herself and set herself on fire” during a confrontation, according to the suit. Later, however, her mother called and disowned her over the telephone, “knowing that the phone lines in Iran are not secure and that she was essentially making a public statement that could be used against Ms. Alinejad at any time,” the suit said.
Alinejad seeks monetary damages in the lawsuit. Her suit comes after a US federal judge awarded Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian and his family nearly $180 million over his imprisonment and torture in Iran.
Iran routinely does not respond to such lawsuits and has monetary orders levied against it. Some lawsuits end up receiving money from the United States Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund, which has distributed funds to those held and affected by Iran’s 1979 student takeover of the US Embassy in Tehran and subsequent hostage crisis, as well as other events.
Alinejad also named the Guard and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as defendants. Both have been sanctioned by the US government under Trump, while the Guard has been designated by America as a terrorist organization.
Meanwhile Thursday, state TV read a statement from Iran’s Intelligence Ministry on air that said authorities arrested suspects in the plot to cause a gas explosion at the Elm-va- Sanat engineering university in Tehran. The statement said they cut a hole into a gas pipeline there for a dormitory housing some 200 students. The report did not elaborate.
The explosion was to happen on Students Day, authorities said. The commemoration Saturday marks the death of three students protesting a visit by then US Vice President Richard Nixon to Tehran following 1953 CIA-engineered coup against Iran’s democratically elect Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh that cemented the shah’s power.


Will Turkey abide by provisions of Berlin Summit?

Updated 21 January 2020

Will Turkey abide by provisions of Berlin Summit?

  • Expert says sudden end to Ankara’s intervention in Libyan conflict unlikely

JEDDAH: With the conclusion of the Libya peace summit in Berlin on Sunday, it remains to be seen whether Turkey is willing to implement the provisions of the final communique and stay out of the conflict.

Ankara is accused of sending Syrian fighters to the Libyan battlefront in support of Fayez Al-Sarraj’s Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) against military commander Khalifa Haftar’s forces.

During the summit, French President Emmanuel Macron voiced concerns over the arrival of Syrian and other foreign fighters in Tripoli, saying: “That must end.” 

Samuel Ramani, a geopolitical analyst at Oxford University, speculates that Turkey will not deploy more troops.  

But he told Arab News that a sudden end to Ankara’s intervention in the Libyan conflict is unlikely for the moment as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country will remain present “until the GNA’s future is secured.”

Noting the difficulty of enforcing the Berlin agreement, Ramani said Turkey might not be the first mover in breaching a cease-fire in Libya.

But he added that Turkey will not hesitate to deploy forces and upend the agreement if Haftar makes any moves that it considers “provocative.”

The summit called for sanctions on those who violate the UN Security Council arms embargo on Libya.

Turkish opposition MPs recently criticized the expanded security pact between Ankara and the GNA, saying the dispatch of materials and equipment to Libya breaches the UN arms embargo.

Until we see what specific cease-fire monitoring and enforcement mechanisms will be implemented and by which foreign powers, we don’t know what arrangements, if any, have been agreed upon.

Micha’el Tanchum, Analyst

The summit does not seem to have resolved ongoing disputes regarding the Eastern Mediterranean pipeline, a planned natural gas pipeline connecting eastern Mediterranean energy resources to mainland Greece via Cyprus and Crete.

The Cypriot presidency accused Turkey of being a “pirate state,” citing Ankara’s recent drilling off its coasts just a day after Brussels warned Turkey that its plans were illegal.

Erdogan dismissed the warning and threatened to send to the EU some 4 million refugees that Turkey is hosting.

Turkey dispatched its Yavuz drillship to the south of Cyprus on Sunday, based on claims deriving from the maritime delimitation agreement with the GNA.

Turkey’s insistence on gas exploration in the region may be subject to sanctions as early as this week, when EU foreign ministers meet in Brussels on Monday.

Aydin Sezer, an Ankara-based political analyst, drew attention to Article 25 of the Berlin final communique, which underlined the “Libyan Political Agreement as a viable framework for the political solution in Libya,” and called for the “establishment of a functioning presidency council and the formation of a single, unified, inclusive and effective Libyan government approved by the House of Representatives.”

Sezer told Arab News: “Getting approval from Libya’s Haftar-allied House of Representatives would be a serious challenge for Ankara because Haftar recently considered all agreements with Turkey as a betrayal. This peace conference once more showed that Turkey should keep away from Libya.”

Many experts remain skeptical about the possible outcome of the summit. 

Micha’el Tanchum, a senior fellow at the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy, said: “Until we see what specific cease-fire monitoring and enforcement mechanisms will be implemented and by which foreign powers, we don’t know what arrangements, if any, have been agreed upon.”