New Age Islam News Bureau
28 Jul 2020
• Iman Khatib Yassin, First Israeli Hijab-Wearing Lawmaker Hopes to Build Bridges
• War of Words: Women in Morocco Break Through in Rap Scene Dominated by Men
• State Feminism and the Islamist-Secularist Binary: Women’s Rights in Tunisia
• Shanina Shaik, Imaan Hammam Take Part in Instagram Campaign to Support Women
• British-Australian Woman Academic Jailed in Iran Is Moved to Remote Prison
• Chinese Envoy Denies Uighur Muslim Women Are Forcefully Sterilized
Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau
Aceh Women Publicly Whipped Hundred Times Each For Sex Work
July 28, 2020
This file photo taken on December 10, 2019 shows the first female flogger preparing to whip a woman in public, in Banda Aceh, after she was caught in close proximity with a man who is not her husband in a hotel. (AFP/CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN)
BANDA ACEH, Indonesia: Two Indonesian women have been publicly whipped nearly 100 times each for selling sex workers' services online, an official in the country's conservative Aceh province said on Tuesday.
Aceh, at the tip of Sumatra, is the only region in Muslim-majority Indonesia to impose Islamic sharia law, which allows flogging for a range of offences including prostitution, gambling, adultery, drinking alcohol, and gay sex.
The punishment was handed down on Monday in Langsa city where dozens gathered to watch the pair get lashed, despite bans on crowds over coronavirus fears.
Neither of the women wore disposable face masks, unlike in some other recent whippings.
The two hijab-wearing suspects were arrested in March along with five sex workers, who could also face a flogging if found guilty of violating Islamic law, said AjiAsmanuddin, head of Langsa's Islamic sharia agency.
"They were punished for violating sharia by advertising (sex) through the internet," Asmanuddin said.
Officials were struggling to crack down on the area's booming online sex trade, he added.
"This is the first (pimping) case in Langsa although we believe there are many of them out there," Asmanuddin said.
"We just don't have the necessary tools to monitor them online."
Rights groups have slammed public caning as cruel, and Indonesia's President Joko Widodo has called for it to end.
But the practice has wide support among Aceh's mostly Muslim population. - AFP
Iman Khatib Yassin, First Israeli Hijab-Wearing Lawmaker Hopes to Build Bridges
July 27, 2020
New Israeli Knesset member Iman Khatib Yassin,
In her hilltop village home outside Nazareth, Iman Khatib Yassin, one of Israel’s newest lawmakers, sinks into a chair in her living room, furnished with plush cream-colored couches and Persian rugs.
Wearing a pale green hijab headscarf and rose-colored cardigan, she clasps her hands on the lap of her floor-skimming dress. It’s been a long week, she explains in her low, gentle voice, a week of shuttling between parliamentary committee meetings on the coronavirus and the economy in Jerusalem, and long drives to tend to her ailing mother at a hospital in the Galilee. She would return home around 11 p.m.
Ms. Khatib Yassin still seems surprised that she’s a member of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, more than four months after being elected. A social worker and community center director, she had long turned down suggestions that she enter politics. In the end she decided to run for office in March because she was motivated by the idea of representation itself.
“I strongly felt a calling to serve others, I saw running as a chance to open the door to other traditional women. But even though I ran I still didn’t think I had any chance of actually getting into the Knesset,” she says.
She scraped in, 15th on the Joint List, a coalition of parties representing the descendants of the Palestinian Arabs who stayed in Israel in 1948 when the state was created as a Jewish homeland. Others fled or were expelled, settling as refugees in Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon. The Joint List won 15 seats, which made it the third largest party in Israel and made Ms. Khatib Yassin the first hijab-wearing Muslim woman to be elected to parliament in the history of Israel.
She knows the hijab, the Islamic headscarf, is what people will see first, but she hopes to make her mark, she says, as a feminist with a social welfare agenda that will transcend ethnic boundaries to help all of those marginalized and in need.
“I believe we need to push and invest and if we do, ultimately that work will pay off,” says Ms. Khatib Yassin, the daughter of farmers with little education who pushed her and her siblings to go to university.
Another breakthrough – she is the first woman elected to the Knesset from Ra’am, a party representing the Southern Islamic Movement, known for its conservative brand of Islam and network of social services.
Ms. Khatib Yassin, a middle-aged mother of four, is credited with helping get the Arab women’s vote out in the March elections. She campaigned especially hard in the Negev desert among Bedouin women, giving speeches in village courtyards to pitch the importance of making their voices as devout Muslim women heard in the corridors of power. She would leave her home at 6 a.m., returning after midnight. Rose, her daughter, 24, acted as her driver.
She recalls a speech to a group of men and women when someone proposed a photo. Some men balked, mindful of the taboo against mixed-gender gatherings in traditional Bedouin society. But they relented. A woman pulled her aside to whisper, “Iman, we are breaking barriers.”
No Arab party has ever joined an Israeli governing coalition, but the Joint List is demanding to take part in decision-making, especially on budget allocations and investment in Arab towns, and on issues that disproportionately impact Palestinian citizens of Israel such as home demolitions, rising crime levels, and civil rights. During the election campaign the party said it was ready to join a government under the right conditions.
The current politically polarized climate, in which the right-wing establishment paints the Arab electorate as disloyal and dangerous, makes the likelihood of a such an outcome low. But just floating the idea seems to be eroding the taboo against it, some observers say.
“We are aware of the realities here, but we in the Joint List decided we want to be part of the political game,” says Ms. Khatib Yassin. And she has a message for those Jewish Israelis who tell her that that this will never happen. “We are getting stronger all the time.” Palestinian Arab turnout was 67% in the last elections, the highest in more than 20 years.
Political since childhood, religious since childbirth
Ms. Khatib Yassin’s rise, and that of the Joint List, is part of a larger story of the social and economic integration of Arab citizens – or Palestinians as many call themselves – into Israeli society. “My national identity is Palestinian, but my civic identity is as an Israeli. I am Israeli in every way. I was born here, grew up here, and became part of this society,” says Ms. Khatib Yassin.
Her political awareness dates back to childhood. From the age of five she worked the family fields with her mother and her siblings, growing tomatoes, melons, and tobacco. It was there she first felt the sting of injustice. The government confiscated a piece of her family’s land with a well on it. She would sneak under the fence to fill up the family water bottles.
“This was my first memory of the government – that it prevented us from having a normal life,” she says.
She wishes her children had had a chance to grow up in the village. “There was a pride in working the fields, the fruit you held in your hands was a product of your work,” she recalls. “We children took pride in the land and our role. I feel it built my personality. From early on I had an understanding that not everything comes easily, but that there is worth in what you do and what you contribute.”
She was not always religious, she explains. But when her doctor told her she would not be able to have children she vowed to become observant if she became pregnant. Grateful for her first pregnancy, she became a devout Muslim.
Ms. Khatib Yassin sees political significance in the way Palestinian Arabs in Israel are increasingly returning to their Islamic faith. It is a salve to soothe the pain of the suspicion they face, she believes.
Over the years she has befriended religious Jewish women, including fellow social activists. She sees a common goal to their joint struggle – an equal place for women in conservative religious and political settings.
“I hope we can be a good example of what religious women can do,” she says.
War of words: Women in Morocco break through in rap scene dominated by men
Jul 28, 2020
Moroccan rapper Houda Abouz, 24, known by her stage name "Khtek", records a song inside a studio in Rabat, Morocco.(REUTERS/Shereen Talaat)
In a rap scene dominated my men, women’s voices are starting to make waves in Morocco.
HoudaAbouz, a 24-year-old who majors in film studies at a university in the northern city of Tetouan, has long been fascinated by hip-hop, and, encouraged by friends, she picked up a mic and began to perform.
In January she appeared in Hors Serie, a song in which she performed alongside three big male rap stars in Morocco, Elgrande Toto, Don Bigg and Draganov.
The video has been viewed around 16 million times on YouTube - a reflection of the popularity the genre enjoys across the north African kingdom - and its success encouraged Abouz to go it alone.
She followed up in February with her debut single KickOff, in which she rails against a society she says does not offer women equal opportunities.
“I am a self-made artist and I write my own lyrics, speaking my mind,” she told Reuters in an interview in the capital Rabat.
“Rap is my passion and my defence mechanism in a patriarchal society,” added Abouz, who goes by the name “Khtek”, meaning “your sister”.
Her lyrics, delivered in Moroccan Arabic dialect with phrases of French or English thrown in, are sometimes explicit.
“Bad ass, I survived war, drugs, craziness and love,” she sings in KickOff. “Many things did not work out because we are ladies in the country of the dick.”
In recent months, the country’s rap scene has became embroiled in politics after a rapper, Gnawi, was sentenced to a year in prison for insulting the police in a video.
Abouz is not alone. another Moroccan female hip-hop star, like Manal, had a hit song “Slay” that was viewed 44 million times on YouTube.
Abouz, who describes herself as a feminist and supporter of LGBT rights, said she was influenced by the pro-democracy protests that shook Morocco in 2011 during the “Arab spring”.
However, she said her music did not serve a political agenda but gave “a taste of the street and of the deep Morocco”.
Men’s prevalence in the world of rap reflected Morocco’s conservative society, she said, but her work tries to seize back the narrative for women.
“I write better than you, though you think I’m just a girl,” she sings in KickOff.
State Feminism and the Islamist-Secularist Binary: Women’s Rights in Tunisia
Jul 27 2020
Although ruled by an authoritarian regime from 1956-2011, Tunisia was described as a ‘beacon’ for the Middle East and North Africa region. The status of women was a major aspect of this. A family code passed in 1956 – on independence from France – significantly improved marriage, inheritance and custody rights for Tunisian women. It was not until 2003 that nearby Morocco implemented a similar code. Tunisia was also the first Muslim country to legalise abortion and the second, after Turkey, to ban polygamy. A 2012 Freedom House Report summarised this, reporting that ‘Tunisia’s post-independence policy has long been hailed as the most progressive in the region’.
The progressive image enjoyed by the regime proved somewhat illusory when thousands of Tunisian men and women took to the streets in the winter of 2010-11. Their unified demands for democracy, freedom and economic justice surprised many in the West, such as French political elites who denied the extent of the authoritarian regime.  Global and local actors were then concerned about the rising popularity of Islamism in politics and the consequences of this for women. However, years on from the revolution, it seems that the threat of Islam to women’s rights has been overemphasised. This analysis seeks to uncover why the secularist/Islamist binary was employed by the authoritarian regime, and how these divisions continue to prevent cooperation today.
This essay is organised into three chapters. The first will emphasise the state’s historical use of women’s issues to suppress political opposition in the 1956-2011 era. This will reveal the political benefits that championing feminist issues brought to Tunisia’s leaders. Chapter Two will focus on the 2010-11 Revolution, and Tunisia’s transition to democracy. It will find that despite the fears over an Islamist party taking power, the rights of women have been preserved and expanded on. The third chapter will look at the barriers that continue to prevent further progress towards equality. Importantly, these are largely institutional and societal problems distinct from religion. However, the historical rift between religious and secular groups continues to prevent dialogue and cooperation on these matters.
This essay will incorporate historical studies with contemporary statistics and perspectives. MouniraCharrad’s book compares Tunisia’s post-independence trajectory to that of Morocco and Algeria. She emphasises the role of Tunisia’s process of state formation as the determining factor in post-independence reforms on women. Nouri Gana’s edited book The Making of the Tunisian Revolution gives useful insights into the causes and consequences of the Jasmine Revolution, and Tunisia’s relationship with the West. Chapters by Monica Marks and Kennith Perkins especially illuminate the manipulation of women’s and religious rhetoric by Ben Ali’s regime. In her recent publication, Laura Guercioanalyses the text of Tunisia’s 2014 constitution, shedding light on the factors that enabled the successful transition into a democracy. Recent theoretical insights offer valuable contributions, such ImenYacoubi’s analysis of state-feminism, Clara Della Valle’s application of universalism to EU funding decisions and LoesDebuysere’s recommendations for dialogue between women’s groups. BBC News, World Bank and Amnesty reports have provided contemporary statistics and accounts.
This investigation fits into wider debates regarding whether gender equality and human rights can be reconciled with Islam. The Tunisian specificity could be dismissed as being unique for its historically progressive stance on women and the success of its democratic transition following 2011. However, in tracking the state’s relationship with women’s rights over very different regimes, this analysis hopes to improve upon simplistic narratives about Islam that have been perpetuated by the West. By acknowledging that women’s rights and democracy can flourish under a democratically elected, Islamist government, ‘zero-sum’ assumptions that Islamist regimes are oppressive to women are called into question.
An extreme form of state feminism – the use of state bodies and policy agencies to promote gender equality – was exhibited in Tunisia between 1956 and 2011. President Habib Bourguiba, Tunisia’s leader from 1956-87, used his power to pass through reforms that vastly improved women’s legal rights. He drew from previous debates but imposed the reforms from above rather than in response to grassroots activism. President Ben Ali, in office from 1987-2011, similarly preserved and expanded on women’s rights within an authoritarian framework. This chapter will explore the political motivations that drove state feminism, and the long-lasting consequences of this model.
Women’s Rights Before 1956
A more equal status for women was being imagined by both Islamist and Western-influenced thinkers long before Tunisian independence. In 1930, the book Our Women in the Shari’a and Society, by religious intellectual Tahar Haddad, called for girls’ education and an end to polygamy and forced marriages. At the time, Haddad’s book was banned and received heavy criticism from the press and religious circles. Nonetheless, his work stimulated debate over women’s rights and conceptualised gender equality in the context of the Quran. Additionally, many Tunisian elites, including Bourguiba, attended French universities and drew comparisons between the lives of French and Tunisian women. By the 1950s, reformists in Neo-Destour – the party set to take power upon independence – were publicising their progressive stance on women’s issues.
President Bourguiba and the Personal Status Code
Religious and feminist rhetoric was used selectively by Bourguiba in his modernising mission. The Personal Status Code (PSC) was passed within months of independence. This was a ground-breaking family code that legalised civil divorce, permitted abortions for women who had more than four children, banned polygamy, boosted the custody rights of mothers and increased inheritance rights for daughters and granddaughters. Although establishing a state separate from religion, Bourguiba presented the PSC as justified by Islamic teachings. He claimed to use ‘ijtihad’ – his critical thinking skills – to re-read the Quran as previous reformers had. Photos of the president with leading Muslim theologians were published to present the code as being compatible with Islam and Tunisian tradition. It is worth noting that before independence, Bourguiba had supported traditional family law and the veil. He described the veil as ‘the last defence of a national identity in danger’ and stayed quiet during Haddad’s persecution. However, once president, Bourguiba proceeded to ban the veil in classrooms, repeatedly describing it as ‘an odious rag’ and referring to Haddad as a pioneer for women’s rights. Furthermore, when Bourguiba became less popular in the 1970s due to economic dissatisfaction, he emphasised his religious beliefs and encouraged women to remember their domestic and family roles. This is indicative of his flexible application of religious and egalitarian rhetoric depending on the national context, and hints at the exclusion experienced by veiled women in Tunisia’s early post-colonial years.
The PSC served to reduce the power of traditional and religious authority. In the lead up to independence, a power struggle was taking place in Neo-Destour between conservative religious figure Ben Youssef and secularist moderniser Bourguiba. Youssef drew support from kinship groupings and the religious establishment, whereas Bourguiba had an urban, affluent base. The two also diverged in their preferred strategies for independence. Bourguiba sought dialogue with the French, but Youssef called for Tunisia to join a larger Arab-Islamic Supranation. Although the reformist faction was triumphant and Youssef ousted from the party in 1955, the PSC was passed as part of a wider programme of state power consolidation. At this time, Islamic courts lost their independence, the monarchy was abolished and a bloody purge of Youssef’s supporters began.  The PSC undermined Islamic family law which supported patriarchal family relationships and formed the basis of kinship practices. Bourguiba could thus propel Tunisia into a society more centred on individual rights and the nuclear family model. This would serve to create national unity, end feudalism and strengthen Bourguiba’s power. Although it is hard to distinguish between ends and means, the PSC was a component of a larger modernising programme that subordinated religion to the state.
State Feminism Under President Ben Ali
The use of women’s issues to suppress Islamist men and women intensified under Ben Ali. He took office in 1987, in the midst of a tense political atmosphere and a growing Islamist movement. Cells of militant Islamists were being organised, more women were wearing the veil and there were demands for a referendum on the PSC. Initially, Bourguiba offered concessions to the Islamist movement (Ennahda), but would come to see them as a major threat to his regime. He responded by cracking down on religious dress, coercing opposition and arresting thousands of Ennahda members for allegedly plotting terror attacks.
This suppression juxtaposed Ben Ali’s progressive laws on women. He amended the PSC in 1993 and 1998 to give women more autonomy over their public and private affairs, more workplace protections and increased divorce rights. These reforms and the rhetoric that Islamism would be detrimental for women’s rights provided Ben Ali with a loyal support base. Secularist women’s groups worked with the authoritarian regime as it was seen as the guarantor of women’s rights. For example, Tunisia’s largest women’s union, the UNFT, was effectively used to distribute pro-Ben Ali propaganda. Given that activists and journalists could be sent to prison for speaking out against the regime, it is unsurprising that many secularist groups saw that they would achieve more for women in cooperation with the state. Although some autonomous feminist groups were allowed to operate from the late 1980s, notably AFTURD and ATFD, they continued to represent elite and secular women and have been accused of having questionable links to the regime. In this regard, Ben Ali successfully exploited the fears of these groups and used the Islamist/secularist binary to ensure their continued compliance. State feminism, therefore, did not allow any women’s groups the freedom to think critically about gender equality or meaningfully participate in politics. However, the human rights of Islamist women were directly under attack.
The exclusion of Islamist women was a significant feature of state feminism. For example, the official symbol for Tunisian women was Ben Ali’s wife, Leila Trabelsi, and Women’s Day celebrations focused on praising her personal achievements. Many Muslim women found this offensive, and felt that their religious identities were marginalised given Trabelsi’s liberal, elite image. This suggests that Ben Ali was eager to carve out and impose his own personal, Westernised view of the modern woman, rather than championing women’s rights through more inclusive symbols. Veiled women also suffered from physical harassment by the state. The 2015 Truth and Dignity Commission hearings found that Islamist women were the victims of sexual violence and assault, perpetrated by the police, based on their association or relation with Ennahda members. State feminism, thus, was an oppressive experience for those women who did not fit the modern, liberal archetype. This caused resentment among many religious women towards both Ben Ali and the feminist groups who stayed quiet during their persecution. Notably, in 2003, ATFD stated their “profound concern about the spread of the head-scarf in the country”. Instances like these greatly contributed to the end of communication between secularist and Islamist feminist groups during the Ben Ali years. As will be discussed in the third chapter, these tensions did not dissipate following on from the Jasmine Revolution.
State feminism and Western Islamophobia also helped Ben Ali maintain positive relations with the West. In the early 1990s, Islamism was emerging as a powerful force in neighbouring Algeria’s civil war. Following the 9/11 attacks on the US in 2001, Ben Ali’s regime was also identified as a strategic ally in ‘America’s War on Terror’. This was exemplified by Ben Ali’s crackdown on civil society after a 2008 rebellion, claiming that the dissidents were connected to terrorist organisation Al-Qaeda. Because Ben Ali was seen to share the same enemies as the US, he avoided scrutiny in his persecution of Islamists. French firms also enjoyed access to Tunisia’s cheap labour market. This partly reveals why French funding to Tunisia was bumped up in 1995 and President Jacques Chirac described the country as ‘a pole of stability and peace’. Furthermore, like secularist women’s groups, NGOs cooperated with Ben Ali’s regime, as operating outside of it would have been risky and far less effective. Although there are many factors at play in understanding Tunisia’s historical connections with the West, Tunisia’s official record on women’s rights certainly helped to justify these relationships.  Like in the domestic setting, Ben Ali used state feminism and the secularist/Islamist binary to further his own power internationally, as he came across as the lesser of two evils. Thus, Ben Ali avoided external pressure to democratise and continued to receive support and funding from international bodies such as the EU, the IMF and the World Bank.
State feminism was therefore a way for both dictators to strengthen their power. Although Bourguiba was less brutal, there were political benefits from passing the PSC. Ben Ali’s regime used the fear of Islam to maintain the support of Western funders and secularist women’s groups in his authoritarian regime. The illusion of Tunisia’s progressivism was revealed in 2011, when women from all backgrounds demanded an end to the regime that claimed to champion women’s rights.
This chapter will explore how, despite secularist concerns over a conservative Islamist party taking power, women’s rights have improved since 2011. Tunisia’s electoral law, the opening-up of civil society and the wording of the constitution have all signalled progress for women’s groups.
Women in the Arab Spring
The Arab Spring, a wave of anti-government uprisings and protests across the Arab world, began in Tunisia. It was sparked on 17 December 2010 by the suicide of Mohamed Bouazizi, a young street vendor who had been the victim of ongoing harassment by Tunisian state security forces. Widespread anger at poor economic policies which perpetuated inequality and unemployment motivated Tunisians to take to the streets. Mass demonstrations took place, and protestors spanning generations, classes, sexes and religious beliefs filled Bourguiba Avenue and took hold of Parliament and the courts. Women played a vital role – they were active in organising and partaking in protests during the Revolution and the following transition period, using new means of mobilisation through online social networks. They suffered at the hands of the Tunisian police, and were the victims of sexual and physical violence. Importantly, these women were from diverse backgrounds and did not operate within the confines of government-sanctioned organisations. Islamist women, victims of the old regime, were especially motivated by the demand for religious freedom and autonomy. By 14 January 2011, Ben Ali had fled the country.
National Assembly Elections of 2011
The lead up to and results of Tunisia’s October 2011 elections evoked both domestic and international anxiety over the maintenance of democracy and preservation of Tunisia’s progressive rights on women. Ennahda, self-defined as a modern, Islamist party, surprised international observers in winning more seats than any other party in the October 2011 National Constituent Assembly. For example, Fatima Sbaity Kassem, former director of the United Nations Centre for Women at the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, claimed “As religiosity in parties’ platforms rises, women’s chances in leadership and decision-making fall.” Western media contributed to a growing frenzy about what Ennahda’s power would mean for women. Commentators in the Tunisian media also worried about whether the PSC would be preserved. Domestic secular groups were also deeply concerned that Ennahda’s genuine aims were being hidden behind modern rhetoric, fearing that it would impose an Islamic government. Feminist groups sprang up as soon as Islamist groups started running for the constituent assembly, and secularist women’s groups repeatedly told the media that Ennahda would reduce women’s status once in power. Social media was also utilised by women in the transitional period as a tool to raise public awareness of women’s issues. For example, feminist group Pour les Droits de la Femme Nord-Africaine shared videos of women publicly protesting for their rights and conveying what life would be like for women if Islamic fundamentalists took power. This emphasises the distrust of Islamist movements still tangible and prevalent across Tunisia following the ousting of Ben Ali.
One immediate gain for women was the electoral gender parity policy announced in April 2011. On party lists, male and female candidates would have to be alternated between, with the aim of equal representation in Tunisia’s legislature. This meant that in the October 2011 election, 24% of the National Assembly seats went to women, including 42 out of the winning party’s 89 seats. These measures to boost female political representation were maintained and expanded under successive Islamist-led governments, serving to undermine the idea that Islamist governments are necessarily oppressive for women. Furthermore, the continued female underrepresentation also needs to be considered in a global, rather than Muslim context. Tunisia has consistently placed ahead of the global average of women in parliament. For example, in 2019 36% of legislative seats went to women – more than 10 percentage points higher than the global average and 11 points higher than the US. Many Western democracies are yet to adopt a similar electoral parity. This is worth considering, as it undermines Western perceptions about the treatment of women in the Arab-Muslim world and contrasts with the meta-narrative that previous Tunisian dictators were pushing.
Civil Society Following the Jasmine Revolution
The National Dialogue – tasked with writing Tunisia’s constitution – was able to maintain open communication between political parties and civil society from 2011-2014. Where protests in other Arab countries have not resulted in an end to authoritarianism, or worse have escalated into civil wars, Tunisia is seen to have been largely successful in transitioning to a democratic state. Guercio compares Tunisia’s constitution-drafting process to Egypt and Yemen. Whereas in the latter two countries, certain important groups were excluded from the drafting process, Tunisia was able to bring together secular and religious forces to compromise and reach agreements. This meant that consensus was reached over citizens’ rights and their relation to the state so the constitution was viewed as legitimate, providing a strong foundation for continued democratic stability and women’s rights. The new constitution, adopted on 26 January 2014, guaranteed gender equality in rights and responsibilities, protection from violence, and the right to education and work. This places Tunisia far ahead in comparison to other MENA countries. Being that healthy democracy and equal rights are an excellent basis for progress on women’s issues, the implications of the drafting process have positive implications for women.
The loosening of civil society restrictions has been positive for women’s groups. Between 7,000 and 10,000 new civil society groups were reported to have registered during the 10 months following the Revolution. Islamist feminist groups emerged such as the Tunisian Women’s Association, NisaTounsiyat and Tounissiet, and secularist group AFTD forged new connections with different political parties and parliament. Women’s groups have been active in demanding an end to genital mutilation and calling out sexual harassment. They were also active in campaigning for the preservation of the CPS and pushing for constitutional equality. For example, intense debate took place over Article 21 of Tunisia’s constitution. A controversial clause was proposed by the Ennahda party, describing women’s roles in relation to men’s as ‘complementary’. In response to this, women’s groups organised a mass demonstration on International Women’s Day 2012. This campaign was successful, and the wording was changed to describe men and women’s roles as ‘equal’. This highlights both the democratic nature of the drafting process, and the effectiveness of autonomous women’s groups in achieving more legal rights. Furthermore, although Ennahda initially supported this wording, their appreciation of wider pressures shows that any more sexist religious beliefs were secondary to the democratic process. Women’s groups were also successful in lobbying the government to adopt a law to fight violence against women in July 2017, extending the definition of violence and giving additional help to the victims. Therefore, the shift away from state feminism to a thriving civil society that holds the government to account has been a very positive outcome for women’s groups.
Religiosity has not led to diminishing women’s rights in Tunisia, as was feared. That is not to say that the transition has been effortless – the months following the Revolution were characterised by worrying trends such as increased Salafist attacks and poor economic conditions. However, progressive electoral reform, the opening up of civil society and the legitimacy of the new constitution are positive indicators for democracy and Tunisian women. Importantly, the PSC was preserved and the constitution enshrined gender equality within the context of a democratically elected, Islamist government.
Despite impressive legal and political improvements since 2011, institutional and societal barriers continue to block true equality. This chapter will explore the domestic violence, marginalisation, and police brutality characteristic of the post-Revolution years. These issues arguably necessitate cooperation between Islamist and secularist women’s groups. However, this is partly being prevented by ongoing stereotyping and resentments, which have outlived the state-feminist era. Furthermore, the decisions made by EU funding for local women’s groups continues to prefer those groups more friendly to Western values.
Continued Barriers Faced by Tunisian Women
Since 2011, domestic abuse has continued to be a daily reality for many Tunisian women. Although the 2014 constitution guarantees ‘the elimination of all forms of violence against women’, this has not translated into a corresponding fall in abuse. In 2016, the BBC reported that violence against women has actually worsened since the Revolution, and the ATFD has claimed that nearly 70% of women suffer from abuse. Many women fear coming forward due to the shame it would bring to their families. Until 2017, taking a case to court could actually bring the victim more harm as the perpetrator of rape could avoid the criminal charges if he married his teenage victim. International human rights charity, Amnesty International, blames ‘flawed laws and entrenched discriminatory attitudes’ as the barriers that prevent victims from realising justice. Social norms and pressures appear to have blocked further progress on this issue. In 2017 a law titled Eliminating Violence Against Women was passed to tackle these issues. However, implementation has not gone as far as was hoped and has been criticised for not criminalising spousal rape or protecting victims from the pressure to drop charges. Without targeted funding and the commitment of the political centre, the benefits to this law will not be fully realised.
In the security sector, police brutality is yet to be addressed by meaningful reform. Without a proper code of ethics or personnel change in 2011, police officers continued to abuse their power. In 2012, a case involving the rape of a woman by two policemen was brought to court. The victim, Meriem Ben Mohammed, faced charges of indecency, for putting herself in an ‘immoral position’ because she was with her fiancé late at night. Although the charges were dropped after global outcry, the chain of events revealed deep-rooted patterns of sexism within Tunisia’s security sector and judicial system. In 2012, another NDI report revealed that where veiled women were the victim of harassment before the Revolution, women thought to be wearing inappropriate clothing or being too close to young men in public were now being targeted by the police. Given a continuation in much of the personnel of the security forces, this suggests that abuse and harassment stems more from social patterns of female oppression and a lack of police regulation rather than ideological or religious reasons.
Low visibility for women, especially those veiled, remains an issue. In the period preceding the 2011 elections, 90% of media coverage focused on men, with women receiving around 10%. Those women who were interviewed by mainstream networks were unveiled. Labidi notes that misogynistic comments about women by political parties and the media remain frequent. This lack of visibility for women is negative as it reinforces norms that women should not be in the public eye, and sexist comments are a barrier to women’s freedom. Women in Tunisia’s South also have a very different experience. In traditional, rural areas, women continue to be restricted by traditional roles and the public life is seen to be male. Working class women are often paid below minimum wage and are subject to sexual harassment at work. A lack of economic opportunity and marginalisation by the Tunisian mainstream media means that rural women continue to distrust the centre of Tunisian politics and feel unrepresented. This goes some way in explaining the support for Islamist groups in the South during the 2011 elections, given that poorer areas are more Islamist and feel disillusioned with elite politics.
Continued Division Between Religious and Secularist Groups
Overcoming these issues is in part being hindered by animosity between secularist and Islamist women’s groups. There are clear areas of disagreement between both sides. Islamist feminists see men and women as equal, but with different familial and societal roles. This has led Islamist women’s groups to support the maintenance of unequal aspects of the PSC on inheritance matters, and opposed the government’s acceptance of all CEDAW clauses. Contrastingly, secularist group see human rights as non-negotiable and endorse the Western model of women’s rights. Beyond these ideological differences, however, bitter stereotyping remains an issue. Islamist women have felt secularist groups to be superficial collaborators with Ben Ali’s regime and continue to question the political neutrality of ATFD and AFTURD. Secular groups often have lumped Islamist women with extremist Salafists and have withdrawn from dialogue on this basis. In March 2013-14, the NGO Search for Common Ground organised a Dialogue to be held between women from different backgrounds. Although different groups were able to identify problems that they all saw as important, such as helping rural women, ending violence and boosting female political participation, frictions came to a head. ATFD and AFTURD refused to attend the closing ceremony, expressing that they did not want to collaborate with groups that did not believe in human rights.
These resentments are a legacy of state feminism. Islamist women have not forgotten the persecution they suffered during Ben Ali’s regime, and secularist groups remain caught up in the rhetoric that the Quran and women’s rights cannot be reconciled. It seems that the distrust on both sides has been unproductive, especially given the list of shared aims. Debyusere highlights that dialogue and strategic coalitions between different women’s groups can foster more progress. In overcoming the ‘us vs them’ rhetoric of the old regime, feminist groups would be able to help and campaign on behalf of all women – regardless of location, class or religion. Furthermore, given that Islamist feminist groups are more able to reach and appeal to rural, religious women, collaboration could help to educate and empower women from more backgrounds.
The Role of External Funders
Following the Revolution, Tunisian civil society has benefitted from millions of dollars of European and American funding. Although this helped to sustain a pluralistic political environment, Clara Della Valle investigates the impact of universalism – in this context treating EU values as ‘normal’ and seeking to export them – on the ability of certain women’s groups to access funding. During Ben Ali’s suppression of civil society, NGOs cooperated with the UNFT out of necessity. However, Della Valle’s 2018 research on EU-funded projects since the Revolution reveals that there has been little change in terms of which groups receive funding, with the same secular and Western-aligned women’s groups continuing to be privileged. This has the effect of skewing funding towards norms seen as acceptable to the EU, despite the fact that funding could be more targeted and policies more reflective of local Islamist women’s preferences. This can also be observed in the EU’s 2016-2020 Framework for Gender Equality and Empowerment, as it does not allow for countries to reconceptualise norms based on their specific religion or culture. By deeming Western norms as universally applicable rather than locally adaptable, the agency of local Islamist women and smaller grassroots groups has been denied. The historical suppression of Islamist groups in particular means that Islamist women’s activists have little experience in organising and campaigning. As highlighted by Della Vallle, these smaller groups find it harder to qualify for EU funding meaning that many projects to improve gender equality are carried out by international rather than local charities. Furthermore, secularist women are more represented in leadership of feminist groups and are felt to be chosen over veiled women to attend international conferences. This highlights that despite the Jasmine Revolution, Islamist women continue to be denied agency – a remainder of the Ben Ali regime and symptomatic of hegemonic Western tendencies.
This chapter has revealed some of the issues which have continued to be detrimental to Tunisian women. It has highlighted that these issues are less to do with religiosity and more rooted in oppressive social norms and unreformed institutions. It has suggested that the marginalisation of Islamist women has had tangible impacts in terms of access to external funding and the opportunity for dialogue between different groups. This can partly be linked to the divisive rhetoric and oppression of Islamist women that occurred under Ben Ali.
This essay has aimed to contribute to the growing literature reflecting on the Arab Spring. It has focused on the experience of women, tracking progress, and identifying continuities between Tunisia’s authoritarian regime and post-Revolution democracy. In particular, the meta-narrative that Islam is oppressive to women has been undermined by this account.
The causes and legacies of state feminism have been explored. This essay has illuminated some of the political motivations that must be considered before uncritical praise is rewarded to the PSC and subsequent progressive reforms. Namely, both dictators secured a loyal base of support among secularist women and oppressed rival power bases whilst maintaining Western funding. The lack of democracy and constraints on civil society also had the effect of preventing genuine grassroots women’s activism. Whilst this disadvantaged any women’s groups that did not wish to operate within boundaries defined by the state, Islamist women were directly persecuted by Ben Ali’s regime. Symbolically and politically, veiled women and those associated with Ennahda were excluded. This was possible in part due to Ben Ali’s use of the rhetoric that an Islamist regime would be detrimental to women’s rights. Not only did secularist women share this fear, but international political actors were receptive to these concerns, seeing the dictator as beacon in a sea of backwards regimes.
The Tunisian experience following the Jasmine Revolution, with politics largely dominated by a conservative, religious party, suggests that Islamism was not the greatest threat to women’s rights. On balance, the new democratic environment has been a major step forward for women. The opening-up of civil society has given many women’s groups a genuine voice that they were previously denied. These groups have been active and successful in ensuring the preservation of the PSC and enshrining gender equality into the constitution. Ennahda has been receptive to popular sentiment with regards to women’s issues and has pushed for greater female representation in parliament. In respecting the democratic process, more conservative elements of the Islamist party have largely been ignored and women’s rights have continued to improve. Tunisia’s parliamentary gender ratio also continues to outperform many Western, ‘advanced’ democracies.
However, as highlighted in the third chapter, Tunisia remains a far from equal society. Police harassment of women, a lack of media coverage and domestic violence has continued to detriment women across different social and economic backgrounds. This implies that patriarchal norms and institutional problems are a larger threat to women’s rights than Islamism. Now that Islamist groups can operate freely, cooperation between different feminist organisations is necessary to tackle these issues.
In historicising Tunisia’s post-Revolution experience, the division between secularist and Islamist groups has been traced back to state-feminism. This legacy of polarisation is hindering further progress on women’s issues today. As highlighted by Debuysere, these groups must embrace the pluralistic environment whilst forming strategic alliances. In being pragmatic and overcoming animosity, these groups will be better equipped to tackle ongoing problems and empower women from a wider range of socio-economic groups. Furthermore, EU funding continues to favour secularist feminist organisations.
This essay has thus drawn two key conclusions. Firstly, contrary to the narratives promoted by Ben Ali and the West, the coming to power of an Islamist party has not been detrimental to women’s rights. Secondly, that the divisions between secularist and Islamist women, a legacy of the former regime, are preventing further progress on women’s issues.
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 Freedom House, ‘Countries at the Crossroads 2012’, p. 8.
 Lilia Labidi, ‘The Nature of Transnational Alliances in Women’s Associations in the Maghreb’, p. 7.
 NidaleAbouMrad for Witness History, When Tunisia led on Women’s Rights, BBC, 25July 2019, <https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w3csywzx> [accessed 01 February 2020]
 Freedom House, ‘Countries at the Crossroads 2012’, p. 8.
 Laura Guercio, Women’s rights after the Arab Spring: Buds without flowers? (Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2019), p. 83; Amy AisenKallander,‘”Friends of Tunisia”: French Economic and Diplomatic Support of Tunisian Authoritarianism’, in The making of the Tunisian Revolution: contexts, architects, prospects, ed. by Nouri Gana (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013), pp. 103-26 (p. 103).
 ImenYacoubi, ‘Sovereignty from below: State Feminism and Politics of Women against Women in Tunisia’, Arab Studies Journal, 24.1 (2016), 254-74 (p. 255).
 MouniraCharrad, States and women’s rights the making of postcolonial Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco (Berkely: University of California Press, 2001).
 Kennith Perkins, ‘Playing the Islamic Card: The Use and Abuse of Religion in Tunisian Politics’, in The making of the Tunisian Revolution: contexts, architects, prospects, ed. by Gana, Nouri (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013), pp. 58-80; Monica Marks, ‘Women’s rights before and after the Revolution’, in The making of the Tunisian Revolution: contexts, architects, prospects, ed. by Gana, Nouri (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013), pp. 224-51.
 Guercio, p. 18.
 Yacoubi, pp. 254-74; LoesDebuysere, ‘Tunisian Women at the Crossroads: Antagonism and Agonism between Secular and Islamist Women’s Rights Movements in Tunisia’, Mediterranean Politics, 21.2 (2016), 226-45; Clara Della Valle, ‘On Women’s Agency and Western Representations: EU Approach to Women’s Rights in Tunisia’, Comillas Journal of International Relations, 11 (2018), 1-15.
 Perkins, p. 78.
 Johanna Kantola and Judith Squires, ‘From state feminism to market feminism’, International Political Science Review, 33.4 (2012), 382-400 (pp. 383-84).
 Marks, p. 231.
 Sami Zlitini, ‘Social Networks and women’s mobilization in Tunisia’, Journal of International Women’s Studies, 13.5 (2012), 46-58 (p. 47); Julian Weideman, ‘Tahar Haddad After Bourguiba and Bin ‘Ali: a Reformist between secularists and Islamists’, International Journal of Middle East Studies, 48.1 (2016), 47-64 (pp. 49-50).
 Charrad, p. 217; Weidman p. 48.
 Weideman, p. 50.
 Zlitini, pp. 46-47.
 Charrad, p. 219.
 Zlitini, p. 48.
 Mrad, <https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w3csywzx> [accessed 01 February 2020]; Charrad, p. 1.
 Charrad, p. 221.
 Zlitini, p. 48.
 Marks, pp. 226-27; Weideman, pp. 50-51.
 Marks, p. 226; Weideman p. 48; Perkins p. 62.
 Marks, pp. 227-28.
 Yacoubi, p. 255.
 Perkins, p. 59.
 Charrad, p. 202.
 Perkins, p. 60; Charrad, p. 208.
 Charrad, p. 209; Perkins, pp. 61-64.
 Charrad., p. 5.
 Ibid., p. 5.
 Zlitini, p. 50.
 Ibid., p. 50; Lilia Labidi, ‘The Nature of Transnational Alliances in Women’s Associations in the Maghreb’, p. 6.
 Perkins, pp. 69-71.
 Marks, p. 233; Perkins, p. 71.
 Freedom House, ‘Countries at the Crossroads 2012’, p. 8; Zlitini, p. 49.
 Brand, p. 254; Lilia Labidi, ‘The Nature of Transnational Alliances in Women’s Associations in the Maghreb’, p. 7; Zlitini, p. 49.
 Debuysere, p. 228.
 Brand, p. 245; Freedom House, ‘Countries at the Crossroads 2012’, p. 7.
 The Association Tunisienne des Femmes Democrates (ATFD) and Association des Femmes Tunisiennes pour le Recherche sur le Developpement (AFTURD) – Debuysere, p. 229.
 Yacoubi, p. 263.
 Brand, p. 245; Yacoubi, p. 260.
 Andrea Khalil, ‘Tunisia’s women: partners in revolution’, The Journal of North African Studies, 19.2 (2014), 186-99 (p. 192).
 Khalil, p. 192.
 Marks, p. 230.
 Yacoubi, p. 267.
 Ibid., p. 259.
 SafaBelghith, ‘Tunisia: selective feminism and the marginalisation of women’s struggles’, Open Democracy, 5 February 2018, <https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/north-africa-west-asia/tunisia-selective-feminism-marginalization-of-women-s-struggle/> [accessed 15 May 2020].
 Kamel Labidi, ‘Tunisia is backtracking on women’s rights’, The Guardian, 25 August 2010, <https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/libertycentral/2010/aug/25/tunisia-backtracking-womens-rights> [accessed 08 May 2020].
 Belghith, <https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/north-africa-west-asia/tunisia-selective-feminism-marginalization-of-women-s-struggle/> [accessed 15 May 2020].
 Freedom House, ‘Countries at the Crossroads 2012’, pp. 7-8.
 Nouri Gana, ‘Introduction: Collaborative Revolutionism’, in The making of the Tunisian Revolution: Contexts, Architects, Prospects, ed. by Gana, Nouri (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013) pp. 1-34 (p. 5); Perkins, p. 71.
 Gana, p. 5.
 Belghith, <https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/north-africa-west-asia/tunisia-selective-feminism-marginalization-of-women-s-struggle/> [accessed 15 May 2020].
 Brand, p. 219.
 Perkins, p. 62.
 Marks, p. 230.
 Kallander, p. 103.
 Yacoubi, p. 255.
 KhedijaArfaoui and Jane Tchaïcha, ‘Governance, Women and the New Tunisia’, Politics and Religion, 8.1 (2016), 135-63 (p. 143); Guercio, p. 82.
 Guercio, pp. 13-14.
 Ibid., p. 15.
 Nadje Al-Ali, ‘Gendering the Arab Spring’, Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication, 5.1 (2012), 26-31 (p. 27).
 Guercio, p. 82.
 Yacoubi, p. 266.
 John Hursh, ‘The Tunisian Spring: Women’s Rights in Tunisia and Broader Implications for Feminism in North Africa and the Middle East’, University of Baltimore Law Review, 46 (2017), 277-333 (p. 316).
 ‘Tunisia’s Islamists ‘reaffirm commitment to women’’, BBC News, 28 October 2011, <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-15496990> [accessed 09 March 2020].
 Hursh, p. 313.
 ‘Reflections on Women in the Arab Spring: in celebration of International Women’s Day 2012’, The Wilson Centre, 8 March 2012,
<https://www.wilsoncenter.org/sites/default/files/media/documents/publication/International%20Women%27s%20Day%202012_4.pdf> [accessed 8 May 2020].
 Marks, p. 224.
 Yacoubi, p. 265; Arfaoui and Tchaïcha, p. 154; Owen Bennet-Jones, ‘Is Tunisia a role model for the Arab world?’, BBC News, 2 December 2014 <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-30273807> [accessed 1 May 2020].
 Khalil, p. 189; Zlitini, p. 53.
 Zlitini, p. 55.
 Arfaoui and Tchaïcha, p. 145.
 Khalil, p. 193
 ‘Women’s Rights in Tunisia on a Steady Incline of Improvement’, The Borgen Project, <https://borgenproject.org/improving-womens-rights-in-tunisia/> [accessed 9 May 2020].
 ‘Proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments’, World Bank <https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SG.GEN.PARL.ZS> [accessed 10 May 2020].
 Muhibbu-Din Mahmudat, ‘Feminism and Modern Islamic Politics: The Fact and the Fallacy’, International Journal of Islamic Thought, 15 (2019), 44-59 (p. 49).
 Hursh, p. 318.
 Ibid., p. 281.
 Guercio, p. 229.
 Guercio, p. 98-111; Debuysere, p. 227.
 Freedom House, ‘Countries at the Crossroads 2012’, p. 1.
 Ibid., p. 5.
 Ibid., p. 5; Della Valle, p. 5; Debuysere, p. 230.
 Yacoubi, p. 269.
 Arfaoui and Tchaïcha, p. 145
 Guercio, p. 103.
 Ibid., p. 100; Della Valle, p. 5; Marks, p. 237.
 Della Valle, pp. 5-6.
 Guercio, p. 100.
 Freedom House, ‘Countries at the Crossroads’, pp. 2-3.
 Marks, p. 236.
 ‘Has life got worse for Tunisia’s women?’, BBC News, 8 March 2016, <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-35743663> [accessed 30 March 2020].
 Della Valle, p. 6; ‘Tunisia: Rapists given a way out while their victims are blamed and punished’, Amnesty International, November 2015, <https://www.amnesty.org/en/press-releases/2015/11/tunisia-rapists-given-a-way-out-while-their-victims-are-blamed-and-punished/> [accessed 3 May 2020].
 ‘Freedom in the World 2020’, Freedom House, (2012), <https://freedomhouse.org/country/tunisia/freedom-world/2020> [accessed 14 May 2020].
 Belghith, ‘Tunisia: selective feminism and the marginalisation of women’s struggles’.
 Marks, p. 244.
 Yacoubi, p. 278.
 Marks, p. 245.
 Arfaoui and Tchaïcha, p. 151.
 Ibid., p. 196.
 Lilia Labidi, ‘The Coming Tunisian Elections: What Will Be the Role of Women be?’, The Wilson Center, 64 (2013) <https://www.wilsoncenter.org/sites/default/files/media/documents/publication/the_coming_tunisian_elections.pdf> [accessed 28 March 2020].
 Khalil, p. 197.
 Belghith, ‘Tunisia: selective feminism and the marginalisation of women’s struggles’.
 Khalil, p. 198.
 Debuysere, p. 233.
 Debyuysere, p. 299-30
International treaty the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) was signed by Tunisia in 1980, but with many reservations that Islamist groups have fought to maintain – Debuysere, p. 230.
 Ibid., pp. 237-38.
 Ibid., p. 23334.
 Marks, p. 241
 Debuysere, pp. 235-36.
 Debuysere, pp. 235-36.
 Ibid., p. 237.
 Debuysere, p. 231.
 Ibid., pp. 235-36.
 Freedom House, ‘Countries at the Crossroads’, p. 6.
 Della Valle, p. 9.
 Brand, p. 219.
 Della Valle, p. 10.
 Della Valle, p. 9.
 Ibid., p. 9.
 Marks, p. 242.
 Della Valle, p. 12.
 Marks, p. 242.
Shanina Shaik, Imaan Hammam take part in Instagram campaign to support women
July 28, 2020
DUBAI: Midst a global pandemic, racial discrimination cases and other global downturns, support is what people are seeking at the moment.
This week, women on social media – famous or not – have been taking part in an Instagram campaign that aims to empower women. Celebrities and influencers have been sharing black and white images of themselves, nominating others – who inspire them – to take part in the campaign.
Egyptian-Moroccan-Dutch model Imaan Hammam shared an image of herself wearing an oversized blazer – not to mention her iconic signature curly hair that made for the look. “Women supporting women is beautiful,” she wrote to her 948,000 followers, nominating part-Saudi catwalk star Shanina Shaik.
Shaik, who is of Pakistani-Lithuanian-Australian descent, also shared a monochrome picture of herself by the beach, which seems to have been taken during one of her quarantine trips.
The 29-year-old model wore a white long-sleeve t-shirt that covered her leopard-print swimsuit.
Reality TV star Khloe Kardashian, who was nominated by American actress and TV personality Malika Haqq and Vanessa Bryant – widow of basketball player Kobe Bryant – had her take on the viral challenge as well.
Kardashian, who recently celebrated her 36th birthday, did not tag specific people. She, however, nominated her all female fans.
“To all my Queens- Let’s spread love and remember to be a little kinder to one another,” she wrote to her 118 million followers on Instagram.
This viral challenge had to have the one-and-only Victoria Beckham, who not only shared a picture of herself, but also included her daughter. “Challenge accepted,” wrote the British beauty icon before thanking actress Nicola Peltz for the nomination.
“Empowering women has always been at the heart of VB. I’ll be nominating all the inspirational women in my life (of which there are many!),” added the 46-year-old star.
In the following post, the mother-of-four shared an image of her nine-year-old daughter, Harper Seven Beckham, writing: “Raising strong women is as important as supporting them.”
The celebrities have all been using the hashtags #blackandwhitechallenge, which has over a million posts, or #womensupportingwomen, which has over six million posts.
Some have kept it simple and only wrote “challenge accepted.”
British-Australian Woman Academic Jailed in Iran Is Moved to Remote Prison
July 28, 2020
LONDON — A British-Australian academic serving a 10-year sentence in Iran for espionage has been moved to a remote prison south of Tehran that is said to be riddled with coronavirus cases, according to human rights activists, raising concerns about her already deteriorating health.
Kylie Moore-Gilbert, a Cambridge-educated professor in Islamic studies at the University of Melbourne, was detained in 2018 at the Tehran airport as she tried to leave the country after a conference.
She has strongly denounced the charges and maintains her innocence. But for the past two years, she has been held at Evin prison in Tehran, where friends say she has often been forced to sleep on the floor and confined to solitary confinement.
On Friday, she was moved to Qarchak, a notorious and isolated detention facility for women southeast of the capital, according to Reza Khandan, an Iranian rights activist who said he spoke to Ms. Moore-Gilbert by telephone.
“I cannot eat anything,” Ms. Moore-Gilbert said, according to Mr. Khandan, who wrote about the conversation on Facebook. “I don’t know, I’m so disappointed,” he quoted her as saying. “I’m so very depressed.”
Dozens of women detained at the Qarchak prison have reportedly been infected with the coronavirus in recent months, according to rights activists and prisoners’ relatives. Inmates at the prison, which is often used to house political prisoners, have described a lack of accessible drinking water, inedible meals, overcrowding and insufficient access to medical treatment.
The State Department included the prison in a list of entities it deems responsible “for extrajudicial killings, torture or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.”
“It is known for unbearable conditions, including regular assaults and inappropriate behavior of prison guards toward women,” the State Department said in a statement released in December.
Iran has imprisoned dozens of academics and dual citizens on espionage or national security charges in recent years, with some of them used as bargaining chips to obtain the repatriation of Iranian citizens detained abroad. In March, a French academic was released as part of a prisoner swap.
Ms. Moore-Gilbert had been held at Evin prison for nearly two years along with FaribaAdelkhah, a renowned French-Iranian academic who was sentenced to six years in prison in May on national security charges.
A British-Iranian prisoner whose case has made international headlines, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, was also held at Evin, but she was temporarily released in May.
In letters smuggled out of Evin in 2019 and published by British news outlets in January, Ms. Moore-Gilbert said she felt “abandoned and forgotten” and described how her health had “deteriorated significantly.”
She accused the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which manages the prison ward where she was detained, of “playing an awful game with me.”
And she again proclaimed her innocence.
“I am not a spy,” she wrote. “I have never been a spy, and I have no interest to work for a spying organization in any country.”
Chinese Envoy Denies Uighur Muslim Women Are Forcefully Sterilized
July 20th, 2020
China's ambassador to the UK today insisted Uighur Muslims live in 'peace and harmony' despite being confronted with video appearing to show shackled prisoners being herded onto trains.
Appearing on the Andrew Marr Show, Liu Xiaoming denied reports that China is carrying out a programme of sterilisation of Uighur women in the western Xinjiang region.
Reports have accused China of attempting to reduce the Uighur population through forced sterilisation, but Mr Liu insisted this is not 'Government policy.'
Experts estimate that more than one million Uighurs and other minorities have been rounded up into a network of internment camps in total.
But Mr Liu suggested video footage, believed to be from Xinjiang, showing men, kneeling and blindfolded waiting to be led onto trains was 'fake'.
He added the images could be 'transfers of prisoners,' as he insisted 'I don't know where you got this video tape from.'
'There is no so-called massive forced sterilisation among Uighur people in China,' he said. 'It is totally against the truth.'
However, Mr Liu admitted he couldn't 'rule out single cases for any country,' adding: 'There is no such concentration camp in Xinjiang.'
He went on to insist the Uighur population, which has reportedly increased in numbers in the last 40 years, enjoy a 'peaceful, harmonious coexistence with other ethnic groups' in Xinjiang.
Confronted by Marr about the footage, Mr Liu said: 'Let me tell you this, the so-called Western intelligence making these false accusations against China, they say one million Uighur has been persecuted, you know how much population Xinjiang has?
'Forty years ago it was five million, now it is 11 million people and people say we have ethnic cleansing, but the population has doubled in 40 years.'
Marr questioned his data, adding: 'According to your own local Government statistics, the population in Uighur jurisdictions in that area has fallen by 84 per cent between 2015 and 2018.'
Mr Liu replied: 'That's not right. I gave you this figure as the Chinese ambassador. In the past 40 years, the Uighur population increased, the population in Xinjiang increased to double. The population doubled.
'So there is no so-called restriction of the population, no so-called forced abortions and so on.'
The ambassador went on to claim he can 'easily refute' accusations of forced sterilisation, insisting these are made by a 'small group of anti-Chinese people working against the interests of China.'
'People can enjoy a harmonious life, Uighur people enjoy a harmonious life, peaceful, harmonious coexistence with other ethnic groups,' he said.
Mr Liu also rejected claims China was pursuing a policy of aggressive nationalisation, saying it was Western powers which were trying to foment a new cold war.
'It's Western countries, headed by United States, they started this so called new cold war on China,' he said.
'They have the sanctions, they have these smearing, name calling, take what happened with the coronavirus.
'They still keep calling China virus, Wuhan virus. Totally wrong.
'But we have to make a response. We do not provoke but once we were provoked we have to make response.'
It comes as Britain accused Beijing of 'gross, egregious human rights abuses' over its 'deeply troubling' treatment of ethnic and religious minorities in Xinjiang.
Dominic Raab said the reports of forced sterilisations and mass detentions in the predominantly Muslim region required international attention.
'It is clear that there are gross, egregious human rights abuses going on... it is deeply, deeply troubling,' he told the BBC.
'The reports and the human aspects of it... are reminiscent of something we have not seen for a long, long time, and this is from a leading member of the international community that wants to be taken seriously.
'We want a positive relationship [with China], but we cannot see behaviour like that and not call it out,' Raab added.
His comments come as tensions between London and China are rising over a host of issues.
Britain on Tuesday bowed to sustained pressure from Washington and ordered the phased removal of Chinese telecoms giant Huawei from its 5G network despite warnings of retaliation from Beijing.
The two sides have also clashed over Beijing's imposition of a controversial national security law in Hong Kong.
The US earlier this month slapped sanctions on senior Chinese officials, as it demanded an end to the 'horrific' abuses against Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang.
Beijing swiftly responded with counter measures in one of the latest episodes in deteriorating US-China relations.
Raab said he will update British lawmakers on Monday on the UK government's next steps regarding Beijing's draconian new law in Hong Kong.
That will include announcing the outcome of a review of extradition arrangements with the former colonial territory.
However, China's ambassador to London warned it will make a 'resolute response' if Britain follows the US in sanctioning Chinese officials for the alleged abuses.
'We never believe in unilateral sanctions, we believe the UN has the authority to impose sanctions,' Liu Xiaoming told the BBC.
'If the UK government goes that far to impose sanctions on any individuals in China, China will certainly make resolute response to it.'
Liu said he did not want to see 'tit-for-tat' diplomatic skirmishes between Britain and Beijing, as was happening with the US.
'I think [the] UK should have its own independent foreign policy rather than dance to the tune of the Americans like what happened to Huawei,' he added.
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