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  • Senator Sharon Keogan

Senator Sharon Keogan — Women in Iran

I am happy to support this motion. I do not believe that there will be much debate on it, given that we are on the side of Senator Chambers and her Fianna Fáil colleagues. We are here because of how young girls and women are treated in Iran and the deaths of Mahsa Amini, Sarina Esmailzadeh, who was 16 years of age, and all the others whose names we do not know. Some of the names were mentioned, but there are so many different reports coming out about how many people have died that we do not know the actual figure.

Since 1979's revolution, Iran has had a civil code of law based on Sharia law, the legal system of Islam. There are a few facts that I want people to know about Iran and what life for women is like there. The age of marriage is 13 years for girls. It was lowered to nine by the revolutionary Government but was raised in 2022, although fathers can obtain judicial permission for their daughters to be married at a younger age. Between March 2020 and March 2021, the marriages of 31,379 girls between the ages of ten and 14 were registered, an increase of 10.5% on previous years.

Female activists and civil society organisations face harassment, intimidation, smear campaigns and imprisonment. For many, protests against the compulsory wearing of the hijab have become a symbolic resistance against the Islamic regime. These protests have been occurring for years. This is just the new revolution. There have been many revolutions down the years where women have tried to stand up. This time, though, the women are being listened to and supported by their men in Iran, which is good to see. Someone can be imprisoned not just for protesting the hijab, but for supporting those who do. Nasrin Sotoudeh was sentenced to 38 years for appearing as the legal defence for a woman protesting the compulsory wearing of the hijab. Many women who have been arrested for protesting against the compulsory wearing of the hijab say that they were subjected to solitary confinement, torture and beatings. The law vaguely defines what constitutes acts against morality, so the Gasht-e-Ershad - the Iranian morality police - have lots of power to punish what it deems immoral dress or behaviour.

A widow can only inherit one eighth of her husband's estate but a widower inherits his wife's entire estate. A son inherits twice as much as a daughter. These are basic rights that women do not have. In Iran, many laws differ between how they are written and how they are applied in practice. A Muslim woman cannot marry a non-Muslim man. According to the letter of the law, a man can get a divorce simply by declaring it verbally, not even necessarily in his wife's presence. However, most divorces ending in mutual agreement between a husband and a wife end up in court. Divorced women are likely to lose custody of the children, especially if they are financially dependent on alimony. Women need their husbands' or guardians' permission to travel abroad, so they cannot go abroad unless they have their husbands' or fathers' permission to leave the country. Women arriving at airports sometimes have their permissions revoked by their husbands and are prevented from boarding.

Amidst all of this, Ireland is set to reopen an embassy in Tehran before the end of 2023. I visited our embassy there in 1997. The Iranians are similar to the Irish people. They are warm and welcoming, and they even have a road called Bobby Sands Street in Tehran. We have connections with Iran. However, we need to stand up now. We need to consider why we are reinstating the embassy. We closed it in 2012 as a cost-cutting exercise. I am sure we are not in a better position to reopen it now. The rationale for this decision seems to flow from Ireland's election to the UN Security Council and our role as a facilitator in the 2015 deal struck on Iran's nuclear programme, which places limits on that programme in return for relieving sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic of Iran. As always, though, diplomatic handshakes herald business handshakes.

One cannot imagine that this move is divorced from the fact that Iran is seen as offering a major growth opportunity for Irish companies exporting goods, particularly medical devices and agricultural products. It would send a strong signal to the Iranian Government if we were to take a stand and show that Ireland is not in the business of deepening diplomatic ties with governments that are engaged in ongoing human rights violations, particularly against young women and girls.

The Iranian Government has imposed severe and extensive Internet blackouts and blocked numerous digital services around the country. Despite constant innovations in the realm of Internet censorship workarounds, there is still no easy, affordable and broad way to restore digital access to people whose governments are actively blocking such access. The Iranian Government is even cutting access to many video games because of their chat function. Some communication services have systems in place for attempting to skirt digital blockades. The secure messaging application Signal, for example, offers tools so people around the world can set up proxy servers that securely relay Signal traffic, bypassing government filters. Can other social media or instant messaging services do the same? I call on the Minister to use his powers, where he can, to help in that regard.

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