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Washington ‘troubled’ by Iran sentencing young woman to flogging: State Department

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The United States is “troubled” by Iran’s sentencing of a young woman to flogging for her participation in a protest, State Department Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus told Al Arabiya English on Thursday.

Mary Mohammadi, 21, was condemned in April to 10 lashes and three months in prison, after being arrested during a demonstration against the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)’s downing of a Ukrainian civilian airliner in January.

“We are troubled by reports about the sentencing of Mary Mohammadi for protesting the IRGC downing of Ukrainian International Airlines Flight 752,” said Ortagus, speaking to Al Arabiya English.

“The Iranian regime continues to violate the human rights of its own people, targeting political and civil society activists,” Ortagus added.

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

Arrested over protests

On January 12, Mohammadi attended a public gathering in Tehran to protest the Iranian military’s downing of the Ukrainian plane, which killed all 176 passengers on board.

“Suddenly I was attacked from behind and was arrested after taking a severe beating,” Mohammadi said in an interview with Al Arabiya English.

Rescue workers carry the body of a victim of a Ukrainian plane crash in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. (AP)
Rescue workers carry the body of a victim of a Ukrainian plane crash in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. (AP)

Mohammadi was subsequently charged with “disrupting public order by participating in an illegal rally.”

It was not Mohammadi's first time being detained by Iranian law enforcement.

Attacked over a headscarf

Mohammadi said she was overheated sitting on a public bus in Tehran “on one of the hottest days of summer” in 2019 when her headscarf slipped down. One fellow passenger noticed.

“Suddenly, I was faced with a screaming woman in chador who was shouting at me to put my scarf back on,” Mohammadi said, adding that she ignored the woman’s repeated calls.

“Eventually she attacked me and made my face bleed, to the point that my blood was under her nails,” said Mohammadi.

Mary Mohammadi in Tehran. (Supplied)
Mary Mohammadi in Tehran. (Supplied)

When the police became involved, Mohammadi was detained for several hours instead of the alleged attacker.

The woman acted violently “because she knew the regime is a hundred percent behind her,” according to Mohammadi. Since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, the government has mandated head coverings in public places for all women.

Education denied, advocacy begins

Universities in Iran have refused to accept Mohammadi as a student, a rejection she said is partly due to her arrest.

“From childhood, having higher education was one of my biggest dreams, but the Islamic regime has officially deprived me of this right,” she said.

Now Mohammadi funnels her passion for education into spreading knowledge about human rights in Iran.

Iranian students gather for a demonstration over the downing of a Ukrainian airliner at Tehran University on January 14, 2020. (Photo: AP)
Iranian students gather for a demonstration over the downing of a Ukrainian airliner at Tehran University on January 14, 2020. (Photo: AP)

“In Iran, every second of the news cycle brings about a new form of injustice,” she said.

Mohammadi said she would continue to speak out despite facing a sentence of flogging and imprisonment, which was suspended during the coronavirus pandemic.

“I might still have to endure the punishment in light of my current activities.”

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