Iranian women's rights activist risks deportation after being arrested in Turkey

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An Iranian women’s rights activist risks being extradited to Iran where she could face execution after she was arrested by Turkish police.

In a short video shared on her Instagram, Maryam Shariatmadari said Monday evening that Turkish police detained her and several others in the southwestern Turkish city of Denizli in order to deport them to their home countries.


“This is without cause. They have chosen a few people to sacrifice and deport. I only ask that you share this news, that is the only way you can help right now,” Shariatmadari said in the video.

The video was widely circulated on social media by Iranians who have been calling for Shariatmadari’s release and criticizing the Turkish government’s treatment of refugees.

Ankara has deported dozens of Iranian asylum seekers in recent times.

Iranian activists warn that Shariatmadari could face execution if deported to Iran.

If handed over to Iran, Shariatmadari will be “imprisoned and possibly tortured and executed,” Iranian-British rights activist and actress Nazanin Boniadi tweeted, urging the UN refugee agency to intervene.

“History has shown that if returned to Iran, [Shariatmadari]’s life will be in imminent danger. She must not be returned to her oppressors,” former Iranian crown prince Reza Pahlavi said on Twitter.

Shariatmadari released another video Tuesday afternoon on Instagram saying she has been released and that her deportation has been “temporarily” put on hold.

“I will explain in detail at another time why I was arrested and why they wanted to deport me,” she said.

Shariatmadari was one of several Iranian women who protested against compulsory hijab in Iran by removing and waving her head scarf in Enghelab (Revolution) Street in the capital Tehran. These women came to be known as the “girls of revolution street.”

Iranian women wearing hijab walk down a street in Tehran on February 7, 2018. (AFP)
Iranian women wearing hijab walk down a street in Tehran on February 7, 2018. (AFP)

Shariatmadari took off and waved her headscarf as she stood on a platform on Enghelab Street in 2018. Her action was met with a violent reaction from a police officer who threw her off the platform causing her injuries.

The Iranian judiciary sentenced Shariatmadari to one year in prison for “encouraging corruption by removing the hijab.”

Shariatmadari managed to flee to Turkey after being detained for a few days in Iran.

“The increasing number of cases like Shariatmadari’s, or worse, like [Masoud Molavi] Vardanjani’s, means that Iranians are not going to be as safe as they once thought in neighbouring Turkey,” Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), said.

Vardanjani was an Iranian dissident who was killed after being shot 11 times in Istanbul in 2019.

A female prison guard stands along a corridor in Tehran's Evin prison June 13, 2006. (File photo: AFP)
A female prison guard stands along a corridor in Tehran's Evin prison June 13, 2006. (File photo: AFP)

“Iranians have long fled to neighbouring Turkey for a better life, with less political and social restrictions. But that situation is changing, and rapidly,” Taleblu told Al Arabiya English.

“Iranian refugees are increasingly becoming political pawns in Turkey,” he said, adding: “The more authoritarian AKP-led Turkey becomes, the greater the danger to Iranians residing in Turkey, who often face unclear charges and extradition threats, which if acted on could put their lives in jeopardy.”

The US should push Turkey to do more to ensure the safety of Iranian dissidents in the country, Taleblu said.

“Washington should pressure Ankara to work more closely with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and help to ensure the safety of dissidents and reporters fleeing Tehran’s repressive regime,” he said.

“The US should also privately warn its flailing NATO ally that permitting Iranian agents to have such a long reach in their jurisdiction is unacceptable,” Taleblu added.

Nevertheless, the US should not overlook the “source of the problem,” which is the regime in Iran, he said.

“No matter how much pressure Washington may try to exert on Ankara to change policy, it should not lose sight of the source of the problem: the plight of the Iranian people in their own homeland,” Taleblu said.

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