So Much for Moderation

How Rouhani Failed Iranian Women

A woman walks past a poster on a street in northern Tehran, March 5, 2012.
A woman walks past a poster on a street in northern Tehran, March 5, 2012. (Morteza Nikoubazl / Courtesy Reuters)

For nearly a year, Maryam Shafipour, a 25-year-old Iranian student, has been held in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison. Her crimes, in the eyes of the regime, are “spreading propaganda” and “gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security.” But her real offense, it seems, was campaigning for Mehdi Karroubi, a reformist candidate, during the 2009 presidential election.

In Evin, Shafipour faces unimaginable horrors. Guards systematically rape female prisoners and, according to Shafipour’s relatives, prison interrogators use torture during questioning. Even if Shafipour survives her time in jail, which is slated to last until 2018, the state has barred her from ever returning to school -- a common tactic for fully forestalling a woman’s pursuit of independence.

So many Shafipours -- academics and students -- have disappeared behind Evin’s walls in recent years that the prison is now called “Evin University.” According to a 2014 Amnesty International report, Shafipour is one of thousands of students to have fallen victim to the Iranian state’s brutality. This wave of repression began in 2009, following the peaceful mass protests against the reelection of hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In those days, authorities detained intellectuals by the hundreds, and many of them were then allegedly tortured and killed.

Ahmadinejad’s government stripped universities of any remaining autonomy and placed them under complete state control. Universities faced renewed “Islamization” and were purged of Western and secular influences. The government expelled or suspended student activists and replaced intellectuals and tutors with members of the Basij militia and the military.

Register for free to continue reading.
Registered users get access to three free articles every month.

Or subscribe now and save 55 percent.

Subscription benefits include:
  • Full access to ForeignAffairs.com
  • Six issues of the magazine
  • Foreign Affairs iPad app privileges
  • Special editorial collections

Latest Commentary & News analysis