Iran newspaper under fire for calling testimony law discriminatory against women

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Iranian newspaper Ghanoun has been attacked by hard-line websites and politicians for publishing an interview with lawyer and university professor Soudeh Hamed Tavassoli in which she called Iran’s testimony laws “gender discrimination.”

When asked about certain situations when a woman’s testimony is reliable from a legal standpoint, Hamed Tavassoli said that while there are certain courts and laws where gender is not an issue, “in the civil procedure code, clearly we encounter gender discrimination concerning female testimony in the courts.” According to Iranian law, which is based on religious law, the testimony of a male is twice the weight of that of a woman in most circumstances.

In the article titled “Discrediting women’s testimony is evidence of gender discrimination,” Hamed Tavassoli continued that there are certain laws in which “clearly we see that in certain affairs, essentially a women’s testimony is fundamentally not accepted and in other matters, also, the rate of the value of women’s testimony is half the value of a man’s testimony.”

Hamed Tavassoli said that there are two schools that authorize judges to interpret this law from the early days of Islam, which is described as “very different” from today. She continued, “It doesn’t seem logical that the testimony of a woman who is a dentist, a surgeon or a lawyer, who in the courts have less importance than a male who is a construction worker.” She urged that there would be changes in laws with considerations of present needs.

Given that this topic is a highly sensitive religious issue, hard-liners in Iran were quick to dismiss her claims and called for the minister of culture to look into the matter and take the appropriate steps.

Ali Taheri, spokesman for parliament’s cultural committee, criticized that this discussion would take place so publicly and said that it “weakens religion.” He said that if the aim of the article was to have a scientific discussion then there are other outlets and journals where these types of questions can be answered, but that “if the goal of the newspaper is to destroy religion, then the necessary confrontation needs to take place for newspapers that want to sow doubts.”

Jahan News wrote a very detailed response to the Ghanoun article. They wrote that in Islam, men and women have different responsibilities in society, and therefore “the expectations that God has of women are not the expectations that God has of men.” For example, the article said that when men are accused of apostasy, their punishment is death, but when women are accused of apostasy, their punishment is not death.

Jahan wrote that testimony is one of the responsibilities and duties that humans have in Islam and that in certain circumstances, men simply have more responsibility in testimony. The article continued that there are certain cases that related specifically to women, a man’s testimony is not even considered and that a women’s testimony only counts. The article’s main argument was that the difference in testimony laws was a question of “responsibilities” and not a question of “rights.”

Hard-line Iranian University Students news (IUS) wrote that Ghanoun had “insulted an explicit command of Islam” and accused Hamed Tavassoli of wanting to “void of the commands of the Quran.” In a very long article, the IUS argued that the question of “value” of an individual in society had nothing to do with the testimony law. The website called Vahideh Karimi, who conducted the interview, “a feminist activist” who was recently present at human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotudeh’s birthday party.

In October, Reformist newspaper Bahar was shut down for writing a controversial article about Imam Ali, the first Shiite imam. While it is reported that Ghanoun belongs to current Justice Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi, the newspaper has a Reformist slant.