Iran: Family of women’s rights activist arrested in despicable attempt to intimidate her into silence

Iranian authorities have arrested three family members of Masih Alinejad, a prominent US-based Iranian journalist and activist as retribution for her women’s rights activism, Amnesty International revealed today.

Masih Alinejad is founder of the White Wednesdays campaign against forced veiling laws in Iran, which has gathered widespread support among women and girls in Iran in recent years.

Masih Alinejad’s brother, Alireza Alinejad, and Hadi and Leila Lotfi, brother and sister of her former husband, Max Lotfi, were all arrested last night from their homes in Tehran and the northern city of Babol by officials from the ministry of intelligence. Like Masih, Max Lotfi is based abroad and is involved in the White Wednesdays campaign. Hadi Lotfi was released after being interrogated overnight about Masih Alinejad’s and Max Lotfi’s activities. He was told that any contact with her or “her team” is considered a criminal offence. He was also told he is banned from leaving Babol and would be summoned for more questioning.

Arresting the relatives of an activist in an attempt to intimidate her into silence is a despicable and cowardly move
Philip Luther, Amnesty International

“These arrests are a blatant attempt by the Iranian authorities to punish Masih Alinejad for her peaceful work defending women’s rights. Arresting the relatives of an activist in an attempt to intimidate her into silence is a despicable and cowardly move,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“Two weeks ago, the death of Sahar Khodayari, who set herself on fire after facing charges for trying to enter a football stadium, shocked the world and drew attention to Iran’s appalling treatment of women. Last night’s arrests are another illustration of the Iranian authorities’ chilling determination to crush women’s rights activism. The fact that they have resorted to going after the family members of an activist is an indication of just how threatened the authorities feel by the growing support for the women’s rights movement in Iran and how desperate they are to put a stop to it.

“Instead of harassing and detaining the family members of Masih Alinejad, Iran’s authorities should release them immediately and end their campaign of repression against women.”

The authorities have refused to disclose the whereabouts of Alireza Alinejad and Leila Lotfi and the reason for their arrests. Amnesty International believes that they may be at risk of torture and other ill-treatment.

Background

This is not the first time that the Iranian authorities have targeted Masih Alinejad’s family. In March 2019, the authorities summoned her elderly mother, Zarrin Badpa, for interrogation. She was questioned for two hours about her daughter’s activities while being filmed. Amnesty International has expressed concerns that the authorities may use statements she gave under duress in future propaganda videos, given their previous record of engaging in such practices.  

Masih Alinejad has founded a series of high profile Iranian women’s rights campaigns. The White Wednesdays campaign calls on women in Iran to protest forced veiling laws by wearing white headscarves every Wednesday.