Iranian anti-hijab activist facing deportation from Turkey as Ankara-Tehran mend ties

An Iranian activist, who participated in demonstrations in 2018 against the compulsory wearing of the hijab, or headscarf, in her country, was briefly detained in Turkey and fears deportation to Iran, where she could face execution and torture.

Maryam Shariatmadari, then a 32-year-old university student, climbed atop a concrete box on Tehran’s busy Revolution Street two years ago. She raised her headscarf in the air and waved it above her head.

On Feb. 22, 2018, her video went viral on Persian social media showing a police officer recklessly pushing Shariatmadari off the structure on which she was standing without a headscarf. 

Her friends have reported that the fall resulted in injuries requiring surgery. She was sentenced to one year in prison for defying the government’s mandatory dress code for women and remained behind bars for two months, without access to adequate medical care.

She was released from prison upon the provision of the 50 million toman bail (approximately $12,000).

Her mother, Mitra Jamshidzadeh, was also detained a day after her daughter's detention, for about 30 hours in Tehran. Her lawyer said that she was subjected to beatings after she tried to obtain information about her daughter’s whereabouts.

Shariatmadari was one of at least 39 women arrested in 2018 in connection with hijab protests, known as the“girls of Inqelab,according to Amnesty International, which says another 55 people were detained for their work on women’s rights, including women who tried to enter football stadiums illegally and lawyers advocating for women.

The anti-hijab activists' detention sparked a Twitterverse, with several users protesting against her possible deportation. 

Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iranian dissidents have sought refuge in Turkey, but it is far from being a safe haven for them recently as Ankara and Tehran have increased cooperation extensively in recent years on security matters.

Shariatmadari was detained by Turkish authorities on Monday for alleged immigration violations and taken to a detention centre for undocumented migrants in Turkey’s western province of Denizli.

She was released the next day and told by her Turkish authorities she’d be given refugee status, but the activist had to resist pressure to sign papers promising to leave the country within weeks, the Independent reported on Tuesday.

The future and safety of Shariatmadari in Turkey remains unclear.

Several Iranians in Turkey were detained and deported to Iran on Tehran's request especially after the country’s 2019's nationwide protests against increased petrol prices as part of efforts to blunt the effects of U.S. sanctions on the country's economy. 

Another well-known example, a popular Iranian rapper, Amir Hussein Maqsoodlo, has been detained in Turkey to be deported to Iran after the Turkish police acted on an Interpol red notice to take him into police custody in January. 

Iranian Kurdish activists also get their share of deportations from Turkey, with accusations of collaborating with the opposition group Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan, which Tehran considers a terrorist and separatist group.

Turkey deported 33 Iranian Kurdish activists to Iran last December, many of whom were executed by Iranian authorities.

Meanwhile, Masoud Molavi, another Iranian dissident, was killed after being shot 11 times in Istanbul in November 2019, three months after he posted a message on social media criticising the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Similarly, Turkey is helping another country accused of grave human rights violations, China, in repatriating Uighur Muslims by sending them to third countries from which they can be extradited by Beijing, despite Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan portraying himself as a protector Muslims across the world.

An estimated 50,000 Uighurs have sought refuge in Turkey from repression in China, but an increasing number of the ethnic group in Turkey are fearful of China’s reach.

Some activists maintain that Ankara’s growing economic dependence on Beijing is behind its inability to the group.

Turkey and Iran have been over regional rivals for centuries, but they have been able to compartmentalise elements of their rivalry while strengthening bilateral ties and expanding areas of economic cooperation. 

Political and economic relations between Turkey and Iran have improved significantly in recent years as the two countries cooperated to resolve the conflict in war-torn Syria and business organisations looked to increase the $9.5 billion trade volume between the two countries to $30 billion.

On Tuesay, Tehran and Ankara agreed to cooperate in fighting  the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its Iran-based offshoot, PJAK, as well as other terrorist organizations, state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

Analysts say the driving force behind their convergence has been a shared Islamist state capture which has led to a more robust advance against the U.S. policies in the Middle East, as well as a marked deterioration in relations with Israel and other U.S. partners in the region.

Some of the strongest condemnations of the recent U.S.-brokered agreement to establish full diplomatic relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) came from Turkey and Iran, both of which style themselves as supporters of the Palestinian cause.