Iran jails man campaigning for women's rights-lawyer

TEHRAN Mon Jun 2, 2008 2:13pm IST

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TEHRAN (Reuters) - A court has sentenced a male activist for greater female rights in Iran to one year in prison, his lawyer and a fellow campaigner said on Monday.

Amir Yaghoub-Ali was arrested last year when collecting signatures in a Tehran park in favour of women's rights in the Islamic Republic, lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh told Reuters.

The 22-year-old student was sentenced on charges including spreading propaganda against the state, Sotoudeh said, adding she learnt about the verdict on May 25 and it would be appealed.

"According to our constitution ... collecting signatures is not a crime," Sotoudeh said, adding his lawyers also included Iran's 2003 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi.

Campaigners say dozens of women activists have been detained since the so-called One Million Signature Campaign was launched in mid-2006, most of them released after a few days or weeks.

A leading member of the campaign, Parvin Ardalan, said Yaghoub-Ali was the first man to be jailed for collecting signatures. She said two female activists had received six-month suspended jail terms for the same activity.

"They are trying to control us," Ardalan said.

Judiciary spokesman Alireza Jamshidi earlier this year said collecting signatures was not a crime, but "making propaganda against the system and disturbing public opinion" was.

Western diplomats see the detention of women activists in Iran as part of a wider crackdown on dissent, which they say may be in response to international pressure over Tehran's nuclear work. Iran rejects accusations it wants to build an atomic bomb.

The women activists say they face institutionalised discrimination that makes them second-class citizens in divorce, inheritance, child custody and other aspects of life.

Iran rejects accusations it discriminates against women, who are legally entitled to hold most jobs and can vote.

Clerics say women in Iran are protected from the sex symbol status they have in the West and that the country is implementing what it calls God's divine law.

Ardalan said in May she had received a two-year suspended jail sentence for her role in a gathering by activists last year. She said this followed a partly suspended three-year jail term for involvement in another banned demonstration in 2006.

She was the fifth campaigner to receive a suspended sentence over the incident in March 2007, when about 30 campaigners gathered outside a court to show solidarity with a few fellow activists on trial inside.

"They think we are against national security but of course we are not," Ardalan said on Monday. "We are trying to democratise society."

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