The price of speaking out

Mahboubeh Karami has been languishing in Evin prison since 13 June. Amnesty's Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui

Mahboubeh Karami, 40, is a freelance journalist. She is also active in the Campaign for Equality, a women's rights movement in Iran which calls for reform of laws that discriminate against women and which launched the "One million signatures" campaign in support of this demand. She has been detained in Tehran's Evin Prison since 13 June.

On that morning, she called her mother briefly from her mobile, after boarding a bus in north Tehran. All was well but about 20 minutes later she called again. The bus had been forced to halt near Mellat Park because of a demonstration by people against the arrest on 11 June of Abbas Palizdar, who had accused several senior Iranian officials of financial corruption.

The protest was peaceful but police and other security forces reportedly used tear gas and batons to disperse the demonstrators. They also set up checkpoints. While drivers were told to keep moving, they stopped a number of buses, including the one on which Mahboubeh was travelling, so that plain-clothed officers could check the passengers.

When Mahboubeh called her mother that second time it was to tell her that her coat had been pulled from her and she was being manhandled from the bus by the security police. She was able to speak only briefly before her phone was disconnected.

On the day she was detained, her family and friends could find out nothing about where she was being held. The next information they had came from one of the other bus passengers who had found Mahboubeh's bag - dropped when she was seized. He took it to her family and told them that Mahboubeh and all other female passengers had been taken off the bus, although they had not taken any part in the demonstration.

On 14 June, the day after the protest, the Head of Tehran's Judiciary told the press that 200 people had been arrested and that those who were innocent or were suspected of committing only minor offences would learn about the status of their cases within a week. In the weeks that followed others who took part in the demonstration, or who were arrested at the same time as Mahboubeh, were released, although in some cases they first had to pay considerable sums of bail.

Mahboubeh Karami’s mother, Sedigheh Mosa’ebi, has said that her daughter called her from Evin Prison on 25 June saying that about 90 women were arrested on 13 June. Most of whom, like her, had nothing to do with the demonstration in Mellat Park. She told her mother that “The police stopped the bus in front of the Park. Then they began hitting the windows with their batons and forced the driver to open the doors. They attacked a man in the bus. I could not keep silent and when I protested, they took me in too.”

Mahboubeh Karami and nine other women, then being detained with her, went on hunger strike on 6 July to protest about their incarceration and conditions – they had been moved to a section of Evin Prison where detainees are not permitted visits. The protest ended after the other nine women were all released by 25 July. Although not freed, Mahboubeh Karami was moved to a ‘general’ section of Evin Prison, and has since been allowed weekly visits from her family.

Bail for her release was posted at the equivalent of more than 100,000 US dollars - far beyond the family’s reach. On 3 August, she was summoned to court where vaguely-worded charges relating to ‘national security’ were reportedly brought against her and, despite being forbidden from meeting her lawyer, her trial started. Her lawyer expects there to be a verdict on Wednesday, 13 August. While Mahboubeh languishes in jail, a victim of arbitrary arrest, her family's anxiety as to what may yet befall her continues to grow.

Her situation is part of a wider campaign of harassment, intimidation and detention of women’s human rights activists in Iran, documented in Amnesty’s report “Iran: women’s rights defenders defy repression”.

There is an international campaign to support these courageous women; Amnesty International members around the world are campaigning for the release of Mahboubeh Karami and others detained in connection with the 13 June demonstration – you can take action here. In the meantime, their relatives continue to wait and hope.