Shaparak Shajarizadeh, who became a leader in the “Girls of Revolution Street” and White Wednesday civil disobedience movements in Iran and who was famously arrested in February 2018 for removing her headscarf in defiance of Iran’s compulsory hijab laws, received the Women’s Rights Award and addressed the 12th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy — see quotes below, followed by the full prepared remarks.
For links to other speakers’ quotes, videos, livestream, and more, click here.
12th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, UN Opening, Monday, February 17, 2020
On Iran’s repression of women:
“As an Iranian woman, I have experienced violence and inequality in every aspect of my life.”
“For the last 40 years, the Islamic government has used the hijab as a tool to repress women.”
On being jailed in Iran:
“I was arrested three times and sent to jail twice. I was beaten and brutalized during my interrogations, and sent to solitary confinement.”
“While the Iranian regime was committing crimes and terrorizing people I was condemned to jail, brutality, and torture for the crime of speaking out.”
12th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, Main Event, Tuesday, February 18, 2020
On Iranian regime’s abuse of women and women’s rights activists:
“Three days after representing me at my trial, Nasrin Sotoudeh was arrested for the crime of being a member of a human rights organization and advocating for women’s rights.”
“Nasrin was my hope, the whole time. And now I know the activists don’t have any hope. That’s why I speak about the law because right now it’s two years that they don’t have access to lawyers or any representation.”
On European complicity in Iran’s crimes against women:
“Three years ago the Vice-President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini, came to Iran. She not only obeyed compulsory hijab but also took selfies with some of the regimes worst human rights abusers. This is unacceptable.”
On becoming an activist:
“I joined the White Wednesdays civil disobedience movement to oppose Iran’s compulsory hijab law.”
On being arrested and tortured:
“I was arrested for the crime of waving a white flag of peace in the street, only to be punished by the regime and detained in Qarchak prison. I was beaten up and brutalized during the investigation, and thrown into solitary confinement. It was the most frightening experience in my life.”
“State authorities interrogated me in front of my innocent child and handcuffed me while he was crying, begging, and screaming, asking them to let us go home. That evening in the courthouse he cried himself to sleep on my lap on a cold stone bench.”
“During the interrogation, I got beaten up badly. During the body search, they forced me to get naked completely and sit up and sit down several times – which I could not do – while they searched me.”
“There were other women with me. Their bodies were black. Pitch black. They had bruises. They did not receive any medical care during those days.”
On lack of basic rights in Iran:
“I want to share the truth. Inside Iranian courtrooms there is no justice. There is no law. Inside Iranian prisons cells there is no humanity or passion.”
“Since last year’s November uprising in Iran, the number of people charged with fake crimes is now in the thousands.”
On hope for the future:
“We hope that the other countries support Iranian women, not the Islamic Republic of Iran. If that happens, we will have freedom in our country and peace in the Middle East.”
Full prepared remarks below
I would like to thank the Geneva Summit for this Award, which I accept with great honour on behalf of the brave Iranian women who are risking their lives on a daily basis to get back their dignity, and all the women around the world who are fighting for freedom and equality and continue to give me the motivation to follow their path. Thank you for listening to my pain when there are so few ears in my own country to care for what we call humanity. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you.
Two years ago I had an interview with a Canadian journalist and she asked me if I expected anything from the world. I told her that I wanted the world to know about the repression of Iranian women, and the regime’s systematic violence against women, and that I expect the world to stand in solidarity with us—the people of Iran. That day, I never imagined that I would be here among the world’s greatest human rights defenders, sharing my story and receiving this incredible award.
As an Iranian woman I have been exposed to violence and inequality in every aspect of my life. In Iran, women don’t have the right to choose who they want to be. Women are not treated as free individual human beings.
I have always believed in civil disobedience and peaceful resistance, always fascinated by the suffragette movement. I knew women’s rights activists didn’t get anywhere in Iran because they were alone, with no support from even ordinary women like me. So, I decided to do something and joined the White Wednesdays civil disobedience movement to oppose Iran’s compulsory hijab law—which requires women to wear a headscarf in public even if it goes against their will.
For 40 years, the Islamic government used hijab as a tool to repress women, enabling their special forces and followers to abuse, violate, and subjugate women. This has prevented Iranian women from having any important role in society.
I was first arrested on February 21st, 2018 because of my involvement with White Wednesdays—a campaign encouraging men and women to post images on social media of themselves either wearing white or no headscarf to protest Iran’s compulsory hijab law.
Can you imagine? I was arrested for the crime of waving a white flag of peace in the street, only to be punished by the regime and detained in Qarchak prison. I was beaten up and brutalized during the investigation, and thrown into solitary confinement. It was the most frightening experience in my life. I not only felt extreme physical pain but also real emotional distress. I was released on bail only after being on a hunger strike.
Then, on March 17th, I was arrested again with my husband for exposing the brutality that I experienced in Qarchak prison. The authorities eventually transported us to the notorious Evin prison for further interrogation and accused us of being spies.
From my experience, I want to share the truth. Inside Iranian courtrooms there is no justice, there is no law. Inside Iranian prisons cells there is no humanity or passion.
On May 1st, a few months after the second arrest, I was on vacation with my 9-year-old son when I was arrested for a third time. State authorities interrogated me in front of my innocent child and handcuffed me while he was crying, screaming and begging them to let us go home. That evening in the courthouse he cried himself to sleep on my lap on a cold stone bench. At that moment, I told myself that I wouldn’t let this happen to my family ever again.
When my lawyer Nasrin Sotoodeh, who got me out on bail in May 2018, I immediately fled the country with my son, and my trial proceeded without me. Nasrin informed me that throughout the trial, the judge refused to hear my side and had already made his mind up. My fate was predetermined, as it had been for so many of the women who stood trial before me. However, unlike those women — and thanks to Nasrin — I was safely outside the country with my son.
Three days after representing me at my trial, Nasrin was arrested for the crime of being a member of a human rights organizations and advocating for women’s rights. She was wrongly accused of “propaganda against the state” and “encouraging prostitution.”
In summer 2018, the government arrested many human rights lawyers who were detained for months. Some got released on bail. Others got sentenced to prison for decades.
Nasrin got 38 years and 148 lashes; Amir Salar Davoodi, 30 years and 111 lashes; Mohammad Najafi, 14 years.
My point is that arresting human rights lawyers and threatening innocent people who reject the government illustrate the total absence of freedom of expression and speech in Iran.
In the past two years, Iran’s regime has violated international human rights law yet again by approving only about 20 lawyers, out of more than 20,000 across the country, to represent anyone charged with so-called “security” or “political crimes.” At the same time, the regime continues to charge more and more activists with such crimes. Since last year’s November uprising in Iran, the number of people charged with fake crimes is now in the thousands.
What does this mean? It’s simple: in short, contrary to international law, those charged with security and political crimes are simply not afforded legal representation. And if this was not enough, the regime continues to throw more and more lawyers, like Nasrin Sotoudeh, in prison.
In 2019, the government arrested many other women who were opposing compulsory hijab. When I was in jail, a woman named Mojgan Keshvarz told my story in public. In buses and in subway trains she would say, “Shaparak is a mother away from her 9-year-old son.”
Now, I tell you here: Mojgan is a mother and away from her 9-year-old daughter and is going to be in prison for years. Also, Saba Kordafshari and her mother Raheleh Ahmadi, and Yasaman Aryani and her mother Monireh Arabshahi. And the list goes on. None of these innocent women had a lawyer during their arrests, interrogations, and imprisonments. None of these innocent women had a chance to have a fair trial.
Last November, Iranian government killed more than 1500 people on the streets in 3 days and arrested 7000 protesters. None of them have access to a lawyer or a fair trial.
Two years ago, I was lucky to have a lawyer like Nasrin. I didn’t have a fair trial but Nasrin did her best to advocate for me. I keep thinking: what is going on inside those walls, behind those doors, right now, when those 7000 protesters have nobody to represent them.
For 40 years, the Iranian government charged political activists with trumped up accusations, forcing them to get false confessions .They have executed thousands of political activists, including many children under the age of 18. None of them had a chance for a fair trial.
Every year the United Nations makes statements about human rights abuses in Iran. Politicians talk about the human rights situation in Iran. But, when it comes to pressuring Iran to change, it seems human rights are forgotten and buried.
Also, three years ago the Vice-President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini, came to Iran. She not only obeyed compulsory hijab but also took selfies with some of the regimes worst human rights abusers. This is unacceptable.
I want the United Nations and politicians all around the world visiting Iran to stop enabling our oppressors. They should instead shine a spotlight on human rights abuses by meeting with the activists and those unjustly detained in prisons.
The truth of what is really going on inside those courtrooms and prisons would shock anyone with a conscience.
Nasrin would tell them about the plight and pain of the innocent rights activists she defended, until she became one herself. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe would tell them about the injustices against her, about missing her daughter’s early ages and milestones as she is held hostage. Narges Mohammadi would explain how she was beaten and battered for her peaceful protests. Arash Sadeghi would talk about not having medical care in prison while suffering from cancer. He is no criminal. He is a human rights activist and he is dying a slow and torturous death in prison.
I want the UN, politicians around the world, and ordinary people to stand in solidarity with human rights defenders in Iran and the Iranian people to challenge the oppressive Iranian regime.
I believe there are a few ways to apply this pressure. First, all of us in this room should call on democracies in the world to target sanctions against these Iranian officials who violate human rights.
Second, we must call on the United Nations to condemn Iran, to punish the Rouhani regime, and to expose its transgressions before the world. How could the UN give Iran and other abusers a seat at the table? How could the UN allow Iran, run by a regime that believes women have no status, to be elected to the UN Commission on the Status of Women?
Third, we must come together to affect real change. When I look around this room today, I am reminded that our most powerful tool for justice is freedom, which remains out of reach for so many around the world, and especially for my sisters in Iran. We must use our freedom to help Iranian women secure theirs. We must be their voice.
In doing so, we give Nasrin, Mojgan and the women of White Wednesday the lifesaving message they had given me, and so many others: “You are not alone.”
Interview with CNN’s Melissa Mahtani