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50 Lashes for Journalist Somayyeh Tohidloo in 'Freest Country in the World'

by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles

16 Sep 2011 10:16Comments

Female blogger, convicted of insulting Ahmadinejad, illegally lashed by man.

somayehstanding.jpg[ comment ] Somayyeh Tohidloo is a journalist and a political and social activist. She was born on December 22, 1978, into a religious family. Her father, Fatollah Tohidloo, is a teacher and was active in culture and politics before the 1979 Revolution. She studied chemical engineering at the Faculty of Engineering (FOE) of the University of Tehran. Between 1997 and 2001, she was a member of the central committee of the Muslim Students' Association of the FOE. She is also a member of the central committee of the Muslim Students' Association of the University of Tehran.

After graduating from the FOE, Tohidloo was accepted into the doctoral program of sociology at the University of Tehran, where she is currently a student. She organized a four-day series of seminars and poetry reading at the school in 2004, during the second administration of Mohammad Khatami, which was supported by the Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology. The seminars, devoted to Iran's literature and culture, began at 8 a.m. and lasted past midnight, and were often attended by prominent people as well as students. They drew such a crowd that four large auditoriums had to be used. She also started a well-known blog, Bar Sahel-e Salaamat (On the Shore of Safety). She said in an interview that she began her blog because "I have no other place to speak."

Tohidloo was active in Khatami's presidential campaigns in 1997 and 2001. She also worked for various Majles and city council campaigns. Soon after Mir Hossein Mousavi launched his campaign for the presidential election of June 2009, she joined the effort, even though she had made it clear that she preferred Khatami, who withdrew after Mousavi announced his candidacy. She worked hard at the headquarters of the Coalition of the Reformists and was instrumental in organizing youth groups in support of the campaign. She wrote about Mousavi to give young people a more informed view of the candidate. She played a critical role in the formation of a long human chain that was formed by Green Movement supporters from Shemiran in northern Tehran all the way to the train station at the city's southern edge.

Angered by Tohidloo's role in organizing the human chain and other Green Movement rallies, and by her broader influence in Mousavi's campaign, the hardliners made her one of the first people to be arrested right after the voting ended. At 3 a.m., Tehran time, on June 14, 2009, armed security agents came to her home and rang the bell. When her husband asked who they were, they replied that they had come from a taxicab company. He said that no cab had been called for, and only then did the agents identify themselves. He opened the door and demanded to see an arrest warrant for his wife, but the eight agents simply arrested Tohidloo and took her personal belongings with them, including a camera and laptop computer. She was detained for 70 days, many of those in solitary confinement. Her arrest and incarceration prompted an emotional outpouring from many Iranian bloggers.

After Tohidloo's arrest, 800 women's rights activists issued a statement demanding her release and that of her fellow journalists Zhila Bani Yaghoub, Bahman Ahmadi Amouei, Hengameh Shahidi, Mahsa Amrabadi, Shiva Nazarahari, and Kaveh Mozaffari. Tohidloo was released on August 23, 2009, after posting $200,000 bail. Bani Yaghoub and Amrabadi have since been released as well. Tohidloo continued writing her blog after she she was freed, offering constructive criticism of what is going on in Iran.

After his daughter's arrest, Fatollah Tohidloo wrote in his own blog,

I am Somayyeh's father, Fatollah Tohidloo. I have always been a revolutionary, even before the Revolution, and an ardent supporter of this great revolution. My daughter studied well, but was also active in social affairs for her own growth and always was active in the defense of Islam and the Islamic Revolution. When she realized that what is presented in the name of Islam in her town is not the same as what she had learned from her own studies and teachers, she began a constructive critique of it and expressed her views honestly in her blog, while also reading the views of others. She loves her nation, as well as the great revolution that was the result of the blood [spilled by] martyrs...

Tohidloo's mother wrote a similarly moving letter after she was released from prison, encouraging her daughter to continue what she was doing and not to give up.

somayehtowhidlou+aschild.jpgTohidloo was prosecuted in a show trial. Among the charges was that she had insulted Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. She was "convicted" and sentenced to one year of imprisonment, a $100 fine, and 50 lashes. Her jail sentence was commuted. On September 14, she was summoned to Evin Prison and received 50 lashes. In violation of the law, she was lashed by a man.

News of the lashing has reverberated around Iranian cyberspace and shocked many in the country. A journalist and social and political activist was lashed, with the aim of humiliating her, while Ahmadinejad keeps claiming that "Iran is the freest country in the world," that anyone is free to criticize him, and that -- more than anyone else -- he is being freely criticized in Iran. This is the plight of the Iranian journalist just when the hardliners are pretending that they are trying to open up the political system in order to encourage people to vote in the upcoming Majles elections next March.

After Tohidloo was lashed, she wrote,

If I am trying to be patient, it is because I do not want morality to be destroyed. Even injustice and oppression do not give us permission to ignore morality. On the other hand, I am a small child of the great Iran, one similar to others, not more [important]. I am embarrassed [about my sentence] because others have paid a much heavier price. I would be grateful if you do not talk much about me, and make me indebted to you for your kindness. Our dream is a bright future and a green, free, and advanced Iran.

She also wrote a blog entry titled "I Record This for the Future and for Myself," addressing those who ordered and carried out her sentence:

Be happy. Your intention was to humiliate me.... [And] I was humiliated today. My pride was broken. But greatness and smallness are in the hands of God. He is there, because if He were not, I would die today.

Tohidloo is a pious young woman. She is also educated, cultured, and well-read, a patriot who loves her homeland, and one who is trying to help her nation to achieve democracy through peaceful struggle.

Interestingly, Raja News, which is published by Fatemeh Rajabi, the hardline author of Ahmadinejad, the Miracle of the Third Millennium, denied that any lashing took place at all.

An update: A close relative of Tohidloo told the BBC that she was brought to Evin Prison, where her hands and feet were chained. The lashes hit "her surrounding," the relative said, perhaps meaning that she was not directly hit, or that she was not seriously injured. The relative said that the aim was to humiliate her.

But Saham News, the website that reflects the views of Mehdi Karroubi, has angrily rejected this explanation. It said that Tohidloo herself has indicated that the order was carried out, but that because she did not want her friends and supporters to be concerned, she relayed it in a way that would not seem that the lashings injured her or left scars. Even if she was not hit directly, the very act of chaining a person and carrying out the lashing is utterly inhumane.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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