Somayeh Tohidlou lashed 50 times for political activism

WITH one brief, cryptic message yesterday, Somayeh Tohidlou, a well known Iranian blogger, alerted her many followers to the fact that she had just been lashed 50 times for her political activism.

“Be content,” she told her tormentors, “because if you wanted to humiliate me I have to confess that my entire body feels thoroughly humiliated.”

Ms Tohidlou, 32, a PhD student at Tehran university, worked for Mir Hossein Mousavi during the 2009 presidential campaign, pioneering the reformist candidate’s use of the social media, organising his youth wing and arranging huge demonstrations by his supporters.

She was arrested on June 14, two days after President Ahmadinejad stole the election, when several men broke into her home at 3am and took her away, along with her camera, laptop and other possessions.

She was held for 71 days in the notorious Evin prison in Tehran, charged with insulting the President and damaging national security, and released on bail of dollars 200,000.

This week Ms Tohidlou was summoned back to Evin and told that she was going to be lashed. She is apparently too scared to talk of her ordeal, but friends are doing so.

“They wanted her to beg for forgiveness but she refused,” Massih Alinejad, a UK-based Iranian journalist, said. Nor would she pay to escape her punishment – another option.

She was instead made to lie on a bed with her hands and feet bound. The female guards refused to whip her, so a male officer was brought in to do the job. Ms Tohidlou recited the Koran as she was whipped. The physical pain was bearable, she told friends afterwards, but the humiliation was overwhelming

Ms Alinejad said she believed that the regime had chosen to lash Ms Tohidlou now in order to spread fear among younger Iranians before parliamentary elections next March.

In the event, her punishment has provoked outrage. Her Facebook site has been inundated with hundreds of messages of support.

“Don’t feel humiliated my sister, you are the tallest of them all today,” said one. “I applaud you for once again showing the true face of the regime,” said another. “They didn’t understand that with each lash there will be more of us,” said a third.

The reformist website Jaras quoted her father, Fatollah, describing Ms Tohidlou as a patriotic Iranian who used her blog to highlight developments that did not conform with the goals of the Iranian revolution or her interpretation of Islam.

“Anywhere else she would have been contributing to the building of the country. Her ideas, her innovations and her creativity would have been used for promoting the revolution,” he said

News of Ms Tohidlou’s lashing comes days before Mr Ahmadinejad flies to New York for next week’s UN General Assembly, and as usual he is taking steps to soften his image before he arrives.

On Tuesday he promised the imminent release of Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, two young American hikers who have been held in Evin prison for 25 months on espionage charges that their supporters dismiss as absurd. Hardline rivals in the Iranian judiciary quickly insisted that the case remained under review.

An appeals court has also reduced the sentence meted out to Nasrin Sotoudeh, 43, the leading Iranian human rights lawyer whose picture appeared on the front page of The Times on Wednesday. Her 11-year jail sentence and 20-year ban on practising law or travelling abroad has been reduced to six years with a ten-year ban.

“Ahmadinejad comes to town as an unprecedented human rights crisis grips the country,” said Hadi Ghaemi, the New York-based spokesman for the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. “This is an important opportunity … to challenge him on Iran’s record of abuse and express their disapproval in the strongest possible terms.”

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