Iran: Prison sentences handed down to some of the 38 women journalists arrested since protests began in September 2022
There are at least 38 women journalists behind bars in Iran, making it the largest prison for women journalists in the world. They are among tens of thousands of people arrested since the "Women, Life, Freedom" protests started over Mahsa (Zhina) Amini’s death on 16 September 2022, as the authorities attempted to silence citizens by violating their rights to freedom of expression and assembly. Protests surged again across the country last week despite the repercussions. The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all women journalists and human rights defenders in prison in Iran, and an end to the arrest of protesters.
Human rights groups have documented at least 20,000 people arrested for protesting or reporting on the death of Mahsa Amini in custody, but fear the toll could be many times higher. Most of them remain in prison. According to the latest CIVICUS Monitor Watchlist published in February 2023, over 500 protesters were killed in Iran between mid-September and mid-December 2022. The Watchlist noted that protesters were being sentenced to death on charges of "waging war on God". In addition, CIVICUS says, "the government is disrupting Internet and social media, as well as using phishing techniques to access sensitive information from protesters and staff of civil society groups."
On 10 February 2023, the Coalition For Women In Journalism (CFWIJ) tweeted that Sarvenaz Ahmadi was sentenced to six years in prison by the 15th Branch of Tehran's Revolutionary Court for reporting on the death of Amini. Ahmadi was in court on 04 January 2023 with her spouse Kamyar Fakur, who is also a journalist arrested for his reporting on the protests. She was charged under Article 134 of the Iranian Penal code.
On 15 February 2023, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) gave an International Press Freedom Award to two women journalists, Niloofar Hamedi and Elahe Mohammadi, "for risking their freedom and lives in order to expose Iran's violent treatment of women." At the event, Canadian writer Margaret Atwood presented the award to the two women (pictured above) in absentia. They are facing trial on charges of “propaganda against the system and conspiracy to act against national security” that could carry the death penalty.
GCHR previously reported that the two journalists were arrested in September 2022. Hamedi, a well-known journalist who first revealed the circumstances surrounding Mahsa Amini’s death, was arrested at her house in Tehran on 22 September 2022, and placed in solitary confinement in Evin Prison. In her reports, she focuses on women’s rights, such as the ban on entering stadiums, women’s autonomy, the mandatory veiling law and the use of aggression by morality police against civilians and women.
Mohammadi, a reporter for "Ham-Mihan Daily", was arrested on 29 September 2022, after she covered Amini’s funeral in Saqqez. Prior to her arrest, security forces raided her home on 22 September and confiscated her laptop and phone.
On 28 January 2023, journalist Nazila Maroofian of “Rouydad24” was sentenced to two years in prison (suspended) by the revolutionary court on charges of anti-government propaganda and spreading false news.
“I have been sentenced to two years in prison, a fine of 15 million tomans [about 320 euros] and a five-year ban on leaving the country,” she said on Twitter, noting that no defense lawyer was present. Maroofian was arrested after she interviewed Mahsa Amini’s father for an article posted on 19 October 2022 on the “Mostaghel Online” website - which was later removed. Maroofian, who is from the same city as Amini (Saqqez, in Kurdistan province), was arrested on 30 October 2022 and detained for 71 days in Qarchak prison until she was released on 09 January 2022.
On 05 February 2023, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a limited amnesty for some people detained during the protests and sentenced to prison previously, including Saba Kord Afshari, who was arrested following protests in July and August 2018 for her role in the White Wednesdays - My Stealthy Freedom campaign which encouraged women to appear in public places. She was released before the end of her combined sentences of nine years, which had been reduced on appeal on 27 April 2022 from her initial combined sentences of 24 years.
On 12 February 2023, journalist Elnaz Mohammadi, of “Hammihan” newspaper, was released on bail one week after her arrest on 05 February. However, her sister, journalist Elahe Mohammadi, remains in custody, along with many prominent Iranian women journalists and human rights activists remain in prison.
Woman human rights defenders have been in prison for many years already for participating in or supporting regular protests against mandatory hijab such as the White Wednesdays protests. Prominent human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, who won the Right Livelihood award, was sentenced to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes in March 2019 after being arrested in June 2018 and charged with "encouraging corruption and prostitution", in connection to her work defending women arrested for peacefully protesting compulsory veiling laws.
Sotoudeh, who is currently on medical furlough from prison, gave a press interview , during which she talked about the current protests in support of women’s rights she called for human rights defender Farhad Meysami to be freed due to his poor health as a result of a hunger strike. Meyasami, who was imprisoned in 2018 for protesting the compulsory hijab law, was among those released on 10 February 2023. But on 13 February 2023, Sotoudeh’s husband human rights defender Reza Khandan was ordered to begin serving a six-year sentence he received in 2019 on similar charges for protesting the hijab law.
The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) calls on the Iranian authorities to:
- Immediately and unconditionally release all journalists and human rights defenders in prison in Iran;
- Respect women’s rights and allow women to choose whether or not to wear hijab, including by ceasing the imprisonment of women who refuse to wear hijab;
- Stop attacking and arresting peaceful protesters; and
- Respect the rights to freedom of expression and assembly.