Iran bars female MP for 'shaking hands with unrelated man'

Apr 16
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Under Iran's discriminatory law, shaking hand with unrelated men is illegal for women
Under Iran's discriminatory law, shaking hand with unrelated men is illegal for women

The Guardian
Friday, 15 April 2016

Minoo Khaleghi was one of 14 women elected to the 290-seat parliament in February.

A newly elected female MP in Iran is to be barred from entering the next parliament apparently because she is alleged to have shaken hands with an unrelated man during a trip abroad. 

Minoo Khaleghi, a reformist politician and environmental activist, has denied claims about the handshake, which would be illegal under Iran’s Islamic law.

Khaleghi was elected in February as a new member of the Iranian parliament, the Majlis, from the constituency of Isfahan, the country’s top tourist destination.

She had been qualified to run, meaning that the powerful guardian council, which vets all candidates, had approved her candidacy. But the controversial body of clerics and jurists has changed its mind, nullifying her votes even though election officials endorsed the results in Isfahan and found no major discrepancy in the counting process.

Critics, including the outspoken MP Ali Motahari, have warned that the disqualification of a candidate who had been initially qualified and then elected sets a dangerous precedent. It also puts a spotlight on the role of the guardian council, an unelected body which has blocked a significant number of reformists and dissidents from running in Iranian elections in recent years.

The council has not explained its decision. Local reports suggested that Khaleghi’s rivals in Isfahan may have obtained photographs purporting to show a woman shaking hands with an unrelated man apparently during a trip to China or not covering her head under the compulsory hijab. It is unclear whether the photographs are genuine.

On Friday, Motahari wrote a letter to ayatollah Jannati, the head of thecouncil, saying that the interior minister should be impeached should Khaleghi remain barred from entering parliament. Motahari said it was up to parliament, and not the guardian council, to endorse a member once they are elected.

“The Majlis should impeach the interior minister for not defending the rights of the nation and yielding to an illegal practice that is threatening the honour of the Islamic republic [if her credentials are not issued by the ministry],” he wrote. The ministry has previously put the blame on the council.

“If she did shake a man’s hand abroad, it’s not going to be easy to prove and besides, it’s not wrong to shake an unrelated man’s hand with gloves on,” Motahari has been quoted as saying by the semi-official Isna news agency, according to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

Shaking the hand of an unrelated person of the opposite sex is illegal under Iran’s Islamic law, and a number of high-profile politicians and artists, including the Oscar-winning film director Asghar Farhadi, have fallen foul of it.

Khaleghi is one of 14 women elected to the 290-seat legislature in February, although the final number of new female MPs is expected to be much higher as the fate of 69 seats will be determined in the second round, which is yet to be held.

There have been conflicting statements about Khaleghi’s seat. The interior ministry has said the person with the second-highest number of votes should replace her; other officials have said the outcome will be determined in the second round.

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