Iran’s Journalists Are Prime Target In Run-Up to Mahsa Amini Anniversary

By Natasha Phillips

Journalists in Iran face further ill treatment by Iranian authorities in the run-up to the one-year anniversary of Mahsa Jina Amini’s death, according to Yegi Rezaian, the senior Middle East and North Africa researcher for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Twenty-two-year-old Amini was arrested by Iran’s morality police in September 2022 for failing to observe the country’s forced hijab law. According to United Nations officials, she was tortured while in police custody, and died on Sept. 16 from her injuries. Amini’s death sparked anti-government protests across the country.

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At least 80 journalists have been detained in the last 12 months, according to the CPJ, which  says the real number is likely to be much higher, as gathering data from inside Iran is notoriously difficult. Most have been charged with national security offenses, which carry much harsher punishments.

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Lawyers representing protesters on trial have also been arrested.

“Based on previous experiences, we know that as we get closer to the anniversary, the authorities ramp up their crackdown, using harassment, intimidation, and temporary arrests to silence critical voices, including journalists, writers, and human rights activists,” Rezaian told Kayhan Life.

Rezaian is the wife of  Iranian-American journalist Jason Rezaian, who was imprisoned in Iran after being convicted in 2015 of charges including espionage and “propaganda against the establishment.” Rezaian’s trial was called a “sham” by international human rights organizations. He was released on Jan. 16, 2016, in a prisoner swap which included the release by the U.S. of $1.7 billion in frozen Iranian accounts.

“The government has never treated Iranian journalists justly and hardly tolerates press freedom and freedom of speech. But conditions for journalists have worsened in recent months, after the nationwide protests that followed the death of Mahsa Jina Amini,” she said.

Amnesty International Reports on Iran’s Crackdown to Enforce Hijab, Including Vehicle Confiscation

Those arrested include female reporters Niloufar Hamedi and Elahe Mohammadi, who broke the news of Amini’s detention, hospitalization, and death. The two women were subsequently charged with colluding with the intention of “acting against national security” and “propaganda against the state” on Nov. 8, and of being US intelligence agents. Their trials were held behind closed doors in August. No additional information has been released about the hearings.

Nazila Maroufian, a journalist released on bail on Aug. 13 said she was attacked by officers while collecting her mobile phone at a police station. A witness said they saw the officer strike the back of her head. Maroufian’s mother, who was with her at the time, compared her daughter’s treatment to that of Amini’s experience while in custody. Her mother said the officer replied, “Yes, just like we killed her, we will kill this one as well,” according to a report by news outlet Iran International, published on the same day.

Prominent photojournalist Yalda Moaiery, was arrested while taking photographs of the protests on Sept. 19 in Tehran. She was beaten while in detention and then sent to Iran’s notorious Qarchak prison. In a Jan. 16 Instagram post Moaiery said was ordered to serve a six-year prison term for “gathering with the intention of committing a crime against the country’s security and [spreading] propaganda against the system.”

“We strongly condemn the use of force and violence against journalists because they do their profession peacefully,” Rezaian said. “CPJ calls on the Iranian government to release all imprisoned journalists immediately and unconditionally and cease jailing members of the press for their work.”

Attorneys in Iran have been increasingly targeted since Amini’s death.

Saleh Nikbakht, the attorney for Amini’s family, has been summoned to court for an Aug. 29 hearing, at Branch 28 of Tehran’s Islamic Revolutionary Court just weeks ahead of the anniversary of Amini’s death. A source speaking to France-based Kurdish Human Rights Network on Aug. 21 said Nikbakht had been charged with ‘propaganda against the state’ by Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence.

Prosecutors issued a warning to 54 lawyers who expressed sympathy with Amini’s parents following her death, according to a July 14 report by Iran International. The charges brought against the attorneys included posting content on social media which violated “public chastity principles.”

At least 66 lawyers have been arrested in Iran since the start of the protests, according to information received in March by the UK Law Society, a regulatory body for solicitors in England and Wales.

A March 8 report by news outlet the Law Gazette said Some 11 attorneys had been sentenced in courts and 47 released on bail.

“Access to a legal representative is a right established in Iranian law, as well as in international law, and must be respected and guaranteed. This widespread arrest and intimidation of lawyers makes legal representation impossible. It prevents the functioning of the administration of justice and the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms of the many people in detention and facing trial in Iran,” Richard Atkinson, the Law Society deputy vice-president said in the report.

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