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Human rights

Saving Nazanin
Former Miss World Canada struggles to save 18-year-old Iranian woman from execution


May 11, 2006

"If Iranians are passionate about seeing a free and democratic Iran, then they shouldn"t just complain amongst friends; they must become active." Nazanin Afshin-Jam

It's never easy to be a teenager particularly anywhere in the world, but it is certainly more difficult in Iran where an entire nation is subject to particularly harsh and not difficult to exclaim, absurd faux-Islamic laws meant purely to control all aspects of life including the most intimate ones.

It is not an exaggeration to say that since the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, Iranian women have been subject to a form of gender-based apartheid. For example, the price of donor blood of an Iranian woman, is worth half the price of a man's. Women cannot become Judges because they are considered to incapable of objective thought. The court testimony of a woman in any kind of legal case is worth half that of a man's.

Paradoxically it is precisely women who struggle for social and judiciary justice in today's Iran. The year 2003 seemed to smile on Iranian women and raise hopes for a solution to their predicament. The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to an Iranian woman, Shirine Ebadi for her efforts in the realm of human rights, especially the rights of women and children. Herself a former Judge (prior to the revolution), now only allowed to be a lawyer, Ms. Ebadi won from a record field of 165 candidates, who included Pope John Paul and former Czech President Vaclav Havel.

That same year, Iranian born Nazanin Afshin-Jam was selected as Miss World representing Canada and later became the Miss World first runner-up. As if through fate, two symbols of a different generation, joined by the common pain of revolution and exile, were honored in the West, each setting an example, in their own way, for Iranian women worldwide to look up to.

Nearly three years later, the situation of Iranian women has not changed much. The radically interpreted Islamic laws continue to be prejudicial towards women, and the recent presidential election of the radical fanatic Mahmoud Ahmaninejad (who seems to have single handedly stirred a rising anti-Semitic militancy that was virtually inexistent in Persian society prior to his unwelcome arrival) has only encouraged his hard-line supporters to intensify their firm grip on the country's judiciary.

In the face of such rising intolerance within her native country Nazanin Afshin-Jam has chosen to take a stand for the predicament of an Iranian 18 year old woman ironically also named Nazanin , who finds herself threatened by an imminent execution. Her crime? Having fatally stabbed to death in March 2005 one of three men who attempted to rape her, and her 16 year old niece in a public park in Southern Tehran.

During her trial Nazanin said"I wanted to defend myself and my niece. I did not want to kill that boy. In the heat of the moment I did not know what to do, because no one came to our help". She was nevertheless sentenced to the maximum punishment possible under current Iranian law, Death by Hanging.

Afshin-Jam, considers Nazanin to be the real victim rather than the criminal in this case, and is determined to help save the young teenager's life, and is using her own International fame to draw attention to the teenager's predicament. If nothing else, it seems to spur on the determination of Afshin-Jam, a former Warrant Officer First Class of the Royal Canadian Air Cadets and a Political Science Student. To raise awareness to this case, she has launched an online petition to support this cause. However, it is very likely that the Iranian Judiciary will carry out the death sentence. This makes Afshin-Jam's petition all the more important and her struggle to save her compatriot all the more urgent.

Darius Kadivar:
Iran has signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, in which it agreed not to execute anyone under age 18 ( Nazanin was 17 years old at the time of commission of the offense and therefore Iran is in breach). How likely is it that this will be applied in Nazanin's case?

Nazanin Afshin-Jam:
Under the ICC and ICCR Iran is obliged not to execute anyone under the age of 18; however Amnesty International has recorded 18 executions of child offenders in Iran since 1990. In 2005 alone, at least eight executions of child offenders were recorded. This treaty may not be respected in Nazanin's case because under Islamic based law in Iran, a woman can be executed over the age of 9 and a man over the age of 15.

Do you have any news on Nazanin's current situation? Have you been able to speak to her or to any relatives? Are they aware of your International campaign to save her?

We have been desperately trying to track down young Nazanin's lawyer in Iran so that we can know what the next steps of action are to help save this young soul. It pains me to imagine where she is right this moment. Is she in a jail cell? Does she know that the international community has taken notice and cares? Does she know that people are fighting for her freedom? We don"t even have Nazanin's last name and so it has been difficult trying to track her relatives as well. I am constantly checking with Amnesty International to find out if they have any new information. Any updates that I do have, I will post on my website at

Negar Azmudeh an immigration lawyer in Canada who focuses on human rights issues is helping you on a legal basis to alert the international community and help convince the Iranian judiciary. How successful have you been on this front this far?

Negar Azmudeh has been fantastic. She knows a great deal about Sharia Law and is very aware of the internal efforts of women in Iran fighting for their rights. She has been very helpful in vocalizing that this is purely a humanitarian effort and not a political one. We do not want to criticize the Iranian Government in a way that will hurt Nazanin's chances of having her sentence commuted.

You were Crowned Miss Canada 2003 the same year as the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi. Have you met her and has she tried to help you on Nazanin's case?

Yes, I have met Shirin Ebadi on a couple of occasions. Through mutual connections I have been trying to contact her so that she may offer her perspectives and suggestions. It would definitely be an asset to have her legal input and experience. She has dedicated her life to these sorts of issues, and I look to her as a role model.

You were born during or shortly after the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. It is quite rare to see Iranian Artists or public figures of the entertainment take a public stand in regard to Human Rights Issues in their country. What makes a second generation Iranian ex-pat like you with no particular connection with Iran anymore so concerned by Nazanin's case and Human Rights in Iran in particular?

While I may be geographically separated from Iran, l feel quite emotionally connected. It is my birth place and my roots stem from this ancient country full of history. I refer to Iran as the Jewel of culture. When I heard of the injustice being imposed on young Nazanin, I was appalled. The most upsetting part for me was seeing the victim being tried as the criminal. This is not a case of one Iranian woman, this is a fight for what is JUST. This is a case of Women's Rights. This is a case of HUMANITY. Iranians shouldn"t be the only ones concerned about the plight of this girl, the citizens of the world should stand up and take action on behalf of all"Nazanin's" of the world.

Anthony Azizi the Iranian American actor in Popular TV series Commander in Chief has also been declaring on VOA that he hopes to use his fame to promote Woman's Rights particularly in the Middle East. Do you think Iranian Artists particularly those in the Diaspora should be more involved than they are today on such issues like Human Rights or Democracy in Iran?

We all have blessings and we must use them to help advance the world in any way we can. If you are an artist, paint a picture for those most vulnerable, if you are a singer, dedicate your song to the sick, if you are an architect get involved in a housing project for the poor. If you don"t have time, make time or donate money to those less fortunate. We all can give big or small. If Ex-pat Iranians are passionate about seeing a free and democratic Iran, then they shouldn"t just complain amongst friends; they must become active. If one is passionate about alleviating the landmine crisis then go after that. It doesn"t have to be Iranian for Iranian. It has to be Humanity for Humanity.

Why isn"t there the same International mobilization for Human Rights in Iran as it has been the case in the past for lets say for South Africa's Nelson Mandela whom you greatly admire?

They are different issues; however I suppose racial apartheid has superseded'sexual apartheid" as you, Dariush, call it. There has been huge mobilization of women and men in Iran fighting for their rights. Internationally there have been huge campaigns to bring the plight of women to the forefront. Perhaps we are in the need of a great leader like Nelson Mandela to bring unity to the cause.

Parallel to your activities, you are also undertaking a career as a singer. Your latest song SOMEDAY- (THE REVOLUTION SONG) seemsvery much inspired by your personal family experience. What message are you trying to convey through this song?

Through my song Someday, I am trying to bring hope to anyone who has been a victim of injustice. It speaks to anyone who has had to flee their country because of political unrest. It sings to anyone who wants change. My family and many Iranians have been witness to a"Regressive Revolution", I sing in hopes that'someday we will find a way". I dedicate this song to Nazanin and the other oppressed youth of Iran.

According to the current Iranian law the life of a Women is worth half that of a Man. So according to this law had Nazanin's aggressor killed her he would not be condemned to death, is that correct?

Yes, to my understanding a man would have to kill 2 women to get the same sentence as Nazanin.

Your online petition has drawn a considerable amount of signatures from all over the world. How else can people concretely help Nazanin ?

At the time of this interview there are 40,000 signatures and growing quickly. In addition to the petition, one can write personal letters to the UN, Iranian Officials, local members of parliament and local Iranian embassies. Inform your local media about the case of young Nazanin in Iran and ask them to post the petition link. Raise awareness in your schools, at your workplace and in your communities about Nazanin and others like her. Send the story to everyone you know and post blogs. Get the word out! I will have constant updates on my website. Addresses to the Iranian Officials can also be found on my website

Thank you Miss Afshin-Jam for your time and we truly wish you success in saving Nazanin.

* For more information please visit the Amnesty International site
* Online petition
* Nazanin Afshin-Jam homepage

Darius KADIVAR is a freelance journalist and Paris based film editor of Namak Magazine, Los Angeles, USA.

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