Feminist prize winner barred from leaving Iran

Iranian feminist and journalist Parvin Ardalan was prevented from leaving Iran on Sunday to travel to Sweden where she was to receive the 2007 Olof Palme Prize in Stockholm. She told the AFP news agency that after she boarded an Air France flight at Tehran airport she was paged and then told that she was not permitted to leave the country.

“They took my passport and asked me to refer to the presidential office department for passport affairs after 72 hours to take it back,” she said. “The only reason for this move is to prevent me from taking part in the ceremony. I think this is unreasonable.”

Parvin Ardalan, who lives in Tehran, is facing possible imprisonment for her part in organizing a demonstration in June 2006, calling for an end to legal discrimination against women in Iran.

She was briefly detained after the demonstration. In April 2007, she was convicted of acting against national security and sentenced to six months’ actual imprisonment, with an additional 30 months suspended for five years. She remains free pending her appeal.

On 4 March 2007, during the trial, a peaceful protest was held outside the courtroom and Parvin Ardalan was among 33 women arrested. She was released four days later and was later charged with “gathering and colluding with the intent to harm national security, disturbing public order and disobeying police orders.” No verdict has yet been reached on this.

On 29 February, the Iranian Women’s Association reported that Marzieh Mortazi Langaroudi, also among the 33 arrested, was given a suspended sentence of six months’ imprisonment and 10 lashes, although others accused in the same case have been cleared of any offence.

Parvin Ardalan is well-known for her past work for prominent publications such as the recently banned Zanan magazine, and more recently for the website Zanestan, closed down in November 2007.

She is a member of the Women’s Cultural Centre, a non-governmental organization, and a founder member of the Campaign for Equality, which aims to collect a million signatures of Iranians demanding equality for women under the law.

In August 2007, Nasim Sarabandi and Fatemeh Dehdashti were the first women among the campaign’s activists to receive prison sentences. Detained for 24 hours in January 2007 while collecting signatures in Tehran, they were later sentenced to six months’ imprisonment, suspended for two years. They were charged with “acting against state security by propaganda against the system.”

62-year-old Ehteram Shadfar became the latest to be convicted of collecting signatures on 19 February 2008. She also received a six-month suspended sentence.

Over 40 others have been detained in connection with their campaigning activities, including Reza Dowlatshah. He was hosting an educational workshop for the campaign in September 2007, when he was detained for three days and beaten

The annual Olof Palme Prize was created to promote peace and disarmament and to combat racism and xenophobia. It is awarded for an outstanding achievement in the spirit of Olof Palme, the former Swedish Prime Minister who was assassinated in 1986.

The Olof Palme Memorial Fund website says that Parvin Ardalan was chosen because she has “succeeded in making the demand for equal rights for men and women a central part of the struggle for democracy in Iran.”

The prize ceremony is to be held on 6 March.