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A young women’s rights activist from Afghanistan recently left the country and travelled to Iran.

Women in both countries have few rights – but the activist told Sky News that when she arrived she saw a massive difference between the two places.

That was until Iranian women revealed how they suffered under the Islamic Republic’s regime.

We are keeping the activist anonymous to protect her safety. This is her story:

Almost three years of living in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime has systemically erased me and my fellow Afghan women from public life.

During this time, I struggled with deep depression and mental health crises, like countless women in the country.

There was no hope my situation would improve so my brother urged me to go travelling with him.

For most of people in Afghanistan, there are two countries we can travel to – Pakistan and Iran.

But because I’m a women’s rights activist and there has been a women’s revolution in Iran after the death of Mahsa Amini, I chose to go to Iran.

Mahsa Amini
Image:
Mahsa Amini. Pic: Reuters

In the first days of our arrival, I could see women everywhere – in the streets, schools, universities, parks, restaurants – free to wear and do what they want at any time.

One day, I went to a beauty salon in the Mashhad area of Iran.

When I entered, there was a woman who just entered the salon before me. She was crying and all the women in the salon were welcoming her with tears and open hugs.

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Waiting for my turn, I got more information about Sapideh. She was a well-known client of the salon for years.

She had lost her father recently – her only parent – and had been at home overcoming her grief and loss. It sounded like she didn’t have any other family or friends to support her in this difficult time.

The ladies in the beauty salon listened to her words and cries and everyone did their best to comfort her.

When I was leaving, I could see that three women were working on her face, hair, and nails. She had stopped crying.

FILE PHOTO: Iranian women walk on a street amid the implementation of the new hijab surveillance in Tehran, Iran, April 15, 2023. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY./File Photo
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Iranian women on a street in Tehran as new hijab surveillance was implemented last year. Pic: Reuters

In Afghanistan, beauty salons – the small spaces that allow women to help and support each other – are all closed.

On my way to the hotel, I saw women driving, or women without hijab who were free – and my mind could only think of Afghan women.

Because we are used to it, we don’t know that our rights and our freedoms have been stolen from us.

The Taliban have dramatically curtailed the rights of women and girls since they regained power. Pic: AP
Image:
The Taliban have dramatically curtailed the rights of women and girls since they regained power. Pic: AP

During those first days, I was constantly comparing our situation with Iranian women – I couldn’t find any similarity between our struggles, even though both countries can be described as having gender apartheid regimes.

In Afghanistan, women are fighting for basic human rights that we are denied, but Iranian women already appear to have them all.

afghanistan women
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Women in Afghanistan. Pic: Reuters

Iranian women are suffering but I wasn’t able to see that as I am one of the millions of Afghan women who are subject to suffering, oppression, and pain.

Meeting Tranom, a young Iranian teenager, in the bathroom of a shopping mall, changed my mind.

Tranom, who was 16, had short purple hair, no hijab, and was wearing a T-shirt and jeans. She told me that when she had a proper hijab, she had been arrested three times.

“It was too bad for a woman to be arrested in my society but now I’m not scared anymore. I wear what I want,” she said.

A young women films during a protest in Iran earlier in October
Image:
A young women films during a protest in Iran in October 2022

When I was in Tehran, I met Zari, a construction engineering student.

We discussed my first impressions of Iran. Zari said that the regime is mostly targeting the young generation of Iranians.

Areas that have more young people also have more trouble and tensions.

“You might have not seen the vans of Gasht-a Ershad, the Iranian morality police, in other areas but you can see one of them in [the] neighbourhood where the university is located and the parks where female and male students go,” said Zari.

Young Iranian women, especially students, are oppressed every day under the pretext that their hijab is not worn correctly, I learned from Zari.

Read more:
Women snatched from Iranian streets

Afghan families ‘let down’ by UK government
Underground protesters waging war against Iranian regime

When I travelled with my brother to Kish Island, in southern Iran, I met Fatima, a teacher who was there with her daughter and husband.

She spoke about a deep mental health crisis and depression among Iranian women.

EDITORS' NOTE: Reuters and other foreign media are subject to Iranian restrictions on leaving the office to report, film or take pictures in Tehran. A couple watches swimmers as they stand on the beach of Kish Island, 1,250 kilometers (777 miles) south of Tehran April 26, 2011 . REUTERS/Caren Firouz (IRAN - Tags: SOCIETY TRAVEL)
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A couple watch swimmers on Kish Island. Pic: Reuters

While we were sitting on the beach of the Persian Gulf, she asked me to watch each woman who was passing in front of us.

She told me that Kish Island is one of the most expensive places in the country – many Iranians dream of visiting. The people here are the wealthy of Iran, she says.

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Meet the women living in a warzone

“When you are looking at women, you see they wear expensive clothes and they have plastic surgery and sometimes heavy make-up,” said Fatima.

“But none of them are happy because they have been oppressed by the regime. Because they are not free.”

“The fear from the morality police [is that they] never leave them alone. They all are aware of countless young women who have been arrested under the hijab pretext, and they have been raped, tortured, killed and disappeared. We all are alive but we are not living.”

Gender apartheid must be codified as a crime against humanity – let all Afghan and Iranian women live free.

On World Press Freedom Day, our contributor’s story shows there is no freedom for Afghan women

There is so much that is revealing about this young Afghan woman’s observations and comparisons with life for women in Iran.

And so much that is tragically sad too.

After more than two years of oppressive restrictions, she’s almost inured to them.

She’s horribly aware she’s lost a lot but like an old photograph, the memories of those “freedoms” are fading.

She almost casually mentions how her brother accompanies her to Iran for a “holiday” – a trip possible after obtaining a Taliban permit allowing her to go but only if she is escorted by her mahram or blood relative who acts as her chaperone (in this case, her brother).

Even beyond the country’s borders, the long arm of the Afghan Taliban stretches and curtails.

How restrictive this is for women with no male relatives or who are living with those who wield dominant control.

She observes how women in a regime considered one of the most restrictive in the world appear almost blessed compared to Afghan women.

Those in Iran have the one “freedom” cruelly denied to her and her fellow Afghan women: being able to learn.

In Afghanistan today, women cannot freely work, walk, or wear what and wherever they want.

She visits a beauty salon in Iran and is delighted to see women supporting others.

They were once female-only safe havens for Afghan women – where women sought support, comfort and exchanged ideas.

But this too was deemed unacceptable in Afghanistan under the Taliban.

They figured the salons may have been where women plotted their protest marches.

Now women spend days, weeks and months locked away in their homes, too scared, too intimidated or simply unable to leave without breaking the Taliban code.

Access to parks is restricted to certain days, the sexes segregated entirely but also the ability to talk and mix with other women has been inevitably curtailed.

The vast bulk of female journalists have had to stop work since the Taliban seized power in 2021.

Some fled the country and are in exile. Others fled underground – and write secretly and anonymously – like our contributor.

There is no World Press Freedom Day for female Afghan journalists and without media freedom, there is no freedom for Afghanistan.

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President Raisi’s death a perilous moment for Iran regime – but don’t expect a change to foreign policy

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President Raisi's death a perilous moment for Iran regime - but don't expect a change to foreign policy

This is a delicate time for Iran. President Raisi was the second most important man in Iran, after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

His death, now confirmed, will have far-reaching consequences.

Although Khamenei has tried to reassure the country in recent hours, the regime will know this is a perilous moment that must be handled carefully.

Live updates – Iranian president killed in crash

There are mechanisms to protect the regime in events like this and the Revolutionary Guard, which was founded in 1979 precisely for that purpose, will be a major player in what comes next.

In the immediate term, vice-president Mohammed Mokhber will assume control and elections will be held within 50 days.

Mokhber isn’t as close to the supreme leader as Raisi was, and won’t enjoy his standing, but he has run much of Khamenei’s finances for years and is credited with helping Iran evade some of the many sanctions levied on it.

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Drone footage of helicopter crash site

Raisi’s successor will most likely be the chosen candidate of the supreme leader and certainly another ultra-conservative hardliner – a shift back to the moderates is highly unlikely.

Likewise, we shouldn’t expect any significant change in Iran’s foreign activities or involvement with the war in Gaza. It will be business as usual, as much as possible.

However, after years of anti-government demonstrations following the death of Mahsa Amini in 2022, this might be a moment for the protest movement to rise up and take to the streets again.

Read more:
Who was hardliner Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi?
‘Butcher of Tehran’ had fearsome reputation – many will fear instability
Hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi wins landslide victory

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Islamic State may seek to take advantage

There are also many dissident groups inside Iran, including an off-shoot of Islamic State – they might seek to take advantage of this situation.

Raisi became president in 2021 at the second time of asking and only with a turnout of 41%, the lowest since the 1979 revolution.

The president is seen as a frontrunner to replace Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (pictured) when he dies. Pic: Reuters
Image:
The president was considered one of the two frontrunners to succeed Ayatollah Ali Khamanei (pictured). Pic: Reuters

He was not a universally popular figure and many inside Iran will celebrate his death.

Consequences for supreme leader

Longer term, Raisi’s death will have consequences for the supreme leader.

He was considered one of the two frontrunners to succeed Ayatollah Ali Khamanei on his death – the other being Khamanei’s son Mojtaba.

For religious and conservative Iranians, Raisi’s death will be mourned; for many though, it will be the passing of a man who had blood on his hands.

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Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi confirmed dead in helicopter crash after charred wreckage found

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Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi confirmed dead in helicopter crash after charred wreckage found

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has died after the helicopter he was travelling in crashed in a mountainous area of northwest Iran.

Rescuers found the burned remains of the aircraft on Monday morning after the president and his foreign minister had been missing for more than 12 hours.

President Raisi, the foreign minister and all the passengers in the helicopter were killed in the crash,” a senior Iranian official told Reuters, asking not to be named.

Live updates – Iranian president killed in crash

Iran‘s Mehr news agency reported “all passengers of the helicopter carrying the Iranian president and foreign minister were martyred”.

State TV said images showed it had smashed into a mountain peak, although there was no official word on the cause of the crash.

“President Raisi’s helicopter was completely burned in the crash… unfortunately, all passengers are feared dead,” an official told Reuters.

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President of Iran killed in crash

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The crash happened in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province

As the sun rose, rescuers saw the wreckage from around 1.25 miles, the head of the Iranian Red Crescent Society, Pir Hossein Kolivand, told state media.

Iranian news agency IRNA said the president was flying in an American-made Bell 212 helicopter.

Read more:
Who is Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi?
Many will be fearing instability after ‘butcher of Tehran’ killed

Iranian TV showed the president on board the helicopter
Image:
Iranian TV showed the president on the helicopter during a trip to Azerbaijan

TV picture showed thick fog at the search site. Pic: IRNA
Image:
TV pictures from Sunday showed thick fog at the search site. Pic: IRNA

Mr Raisi, 63, who was seen as a frontrunner to succeed Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as Iran’s supreme leader, was travelling back from Azerbaijan where he had opened a dam with the country’s president.

Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amirabdollahian, also died in the crash.

The governor of East Azerbaijan province and other officials and bodyguards were also said to have been on board when the helicopter crashed in fog on Sunday.

Iranian media initially described it as a “hard landing”.

The chief of staff of Iran’s army had ordered all military resources and the Revolutionary Guard to be deployed in the search, which had been hampered by bad weather.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi was among the first to react to the news of Mr Raisi’s death.

“India stands with Iran in this time of sorrow,” he said in a post on X.

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Ebrahim Raisi: Who is hardliner Iranian president?

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Ebrahim Raisi: Who is hardliner Iranian president?

A helicopter carrying Iran’s president crashed during bad weather on Sunday.

But who is Ebrahim Raisi – a leader who faces sanctions from the US and other nations over his involvement in the mass execution of prisoners in 1988.

The president, 63, who was travelling alongside the foreign minister and two other key Iranian figures when their helicopter crashed, had been travelling across the far northwest of Iran following a visit to Azerbaijan.

Follow live: Rescuers search for president after helicopter crash

Mr Raisi is a hardliner and former head of the judiciary who some have suggested could one day replace Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Because of his part in the sentencing of thousands of prisoners of conscience to death back in the 1980s, he was nicknamed the Butcher of Tehran as he sat on the so-called Death Panel, for which he was then sanctioned by the US.

Raisi and Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev on Sunday. Pic: Reuters
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Raisi and Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev on Sunday. Pic: Reuters

Both a revered and a controversial figure, Mr Raisi supported the country’s security services as they cracked down on all dissent, including in the aftermath of the 2022 death of Mahsa Amini – the woman who died after she was arrested for allegedly not wearing her hijab properly – and the nationwide protests that followed.

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The months-long security crackdown killed more than 500 people and saw over 22,000 detained.

People light a fire during a protest over the death of Mahsa Amini in Tehran, 2022. Pic: Reuters
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People light a fire during a protest over the death of Mahsa Amini in Tehran, 2022. Pic: Reuters

In March, a United Nations investigative panel found that Iran was responsible for the “physical violence” that led to Ms Amini’s death after her arrest for not wearing a hijab, or headscarf, to the liking of authorities.

The president is seen as a frontrunner to replace Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (pictured) when he dies. Pic: Reuters
Image:
The president is seen as a frontrunner to replace Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (pictured). Pic: Reuters

The president also supported Iran’s unprecedented decision in April to launch a drone and missile attack on Israel amid its war with Hamas, the ruling militant group in Gaza responsible for the 7 October attacks which saw 1,200 people killed in southern Israel.

Involvement in mass executions

Mr Raisi is sanctioned by the US in part over his involvement in the mass execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988 at the end of the bloody Iran-Iraq war.

Under the president, Iran now enriches uranium at nearly weapons-grade levels and hampers international inspections.

Iran has armed Russia in its war on Ukraine and has continued arming proxy groups in the Middle East, such as Yemen’s Houthi rebels and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

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He successfully ran for the presidency back in August 2021 in a vote that got the lowest turnout in the Islamic Republic’s history as all of his potentially prominent opponents were barred from running under Iran’s vetting system.

A presidency run in 2017 saw him lose to Hassan Rouhani, the relatively moderate cleric who as president reached Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

‘Very involved in anything’

Alistair Bunkall, Sky News’s Middle East correspondent, said the president is “a major figure in Iranian political and religious society” but “he’s not universally popular by any means” as his administration has seen a series of protests in the past few years against his and the government’s “hardline attitude”.

Mr Raisi is nonetheless “considered one of the two frontrunners to potentially take over” the Iranian regime when the current supreme leader dies, Bunkall said.

He added the president would have been “instrumental” in many of Iran’s activities in the region as he “would’ve been very involved in anything particularly what has been happening in Israel and the surrounding areas like Lebanon and Gaza and the Houthis over the last seven and a bit months”.

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