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Iran detains 10 at Women's Day demonstration

Turnout is light after the arrest of activists at earlier protests.

March 09, 2007|Ramin Mostaghim | Special to The Times

TEHRAN — Iranian security forces outnumbered demonstrators at a tiny gathering here Thursday afternoon commemorating International Women's Day. The event already had been diminished by an aggressive campaign of detentions in preceding days.

In Iran, the period around Women's Day traditionally has been marked by boisterous street demonstrations by human rights activists demanding an end to Islamic laws condemned as discriminatory or sexist.

About 50 demonstrators, none holding placards, showed up Thursday at the capital's Baharestan Square, near the parliament. They were quickly confronted and overwhelmed by riot police, including dozens of young female officers wearing bright green uniforms with red stripes.

At least eight women were arrested and loaded into a minibus. Two men also were arrested before police swarmed the square and sat on the pavement, preventing demonstrators from regrouping. Witnesses said some of the protesters were beaten.

Security forces beat at least one female photojournalist at the scene and briefly detained a television cameraman.

"I have been beaten up with batons by anti-riot police," said one young man at the demonstration, wincing in pain and clutching his shoulder.

At nearby stores in the crowded downtown area, shoppers preparing for the Persian New Year holiday, which will begin March 21, looked on.

One middle-aged woman in a black, all-covering chador cursed the police officers once she learned why the young women were being arrested.

"People are worried about high prices and you just round up these girls," she muttered as a plainclothes officer ordered her to leave the area.

Security forces arrested 33 women Sunday at a demonstration outside a courthouse, but activists said 30 had been released by Thursday. Among those originally detained were leading women's rights activists.

Although the U.S.-funded Voice of America and Iranian bloggers heavily promoted the demonstration, state-controlled broadcast media and semi-independent newspapers did not mention the event.

The earlier arrests and lack of publicity foiled plans for a large gathering, women's rights activists said.

"Due to a heavy crackdown we have been prevented from managing and coordinating the commemoration," said a news release issued by One Million Signatures, a coalition of women's groups.

The coalition aims to win support for changing the Islamic Republic's laws on women's rights, including statutes that value a woman's court testimony at half that of a man's and prohibit women from receiving full inheritances.

The conservative government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has cracked down on a once-flourishing culture of nonprofit organizations and activists pushing to expand civil liberties in Iran, frequently described by rights groups as one of the world's most repressive nations.

The government has condemned democratic-minded reformists and activists as pawns of Western powers seeking to undermine theocratic rule in Iran.

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