Journalists Niloufar Hamedi, Elahe Mohammadi Face Re-Arrest For Not Wearing Hijab

By Natasha Philips

Journalists Niloufar Hamedi and Elahe Mohammadi are to face a new set of charges in Iran after they appeared in public without the mandatory hijabs on Jan. 14, the day that they were temporarily released on bail. Details about the new charges were published on Jan. 15 by Mizan, the Islamic Republic judiciary’s official news agency.

Photos and videos of the two female journalists leaving prison without their headscarves went viral on social media. The footage led the judicial authorities to announce on Jan. 15 that the reporters would be prosecuted for breaching the country’s mandatory hijab law. The journalists were let out on the equivalent of $200,000 in bail each, pending the outcome of their appeals against the initial charges. They had already served 13 months of their prison sentences.

The two women broke the story of 22-year-old Mahsa Jina Amini’s arrest in September 2022 for failing to observe the compulsory hijab law and her death while in detention. Amini’s death sparked nationwide protests in Iran which started as a campaign against the mandatory hijab and grew to include demands for better pay and living conditions, and for regime change. The government arrested at least 90 journalists during the protests, sparking an international outcry. 

Hamedi and Mohammadi were subsequently indicted on charges of colluding with the intention of “acting against national security” and spreading “propaganda against the state” on Nov. 8, 2022. and of being US intelligence agents. They were imprisoned and updates about their cases and their wellbeing were kept from the public for several months prior to their trials. 

Hamedi and Mohammadi were then sentenced to seven years and six years in prison respectively, for “collaborating with the hostile government of the United States,” on Oct. 22, 2023 in Tehran’s revolutionary court. The trials were described as a “sham” by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

“I’ve seen this pattern happen with other activists who were released and immediately put back in jail for speaking up,” Elika Ashoori, an Iranian human rights activist and the daughter of former political prisoner Anoosheh Ashoori, told Kayhan Life. “The fact that they’re putting together a file to rearrest them for showing their hair in their release video shows that they are thinking ahead and they’re not going to be lenient.” 

Anoosheh Ashoori was arrested in August 2017 and detained in Tehran’s  notorious Evin prison. The British-Iranian businessman was sentenced to 12 years in jail for spying for Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad and “acquiring illegitimate wealth,” charges which he has always denied. He was released with the British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe on March 16, 2022 after a deal was struck between Iran and the UK for their release. 

“We shouldn’t forget that Niloufar and Elahe are not free: They are out on bail which means that they can be sent back to jail at any time,” Elika Ashoori said. “If they continue their activism outside of prison they are doing it fully aware of what’s in store and that’s what makes them even more courageous and inspiring.” 

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Harsh punishments for political prisoners in Iran, also known as prisoners of conscience, have steadily increased in recent years. 

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Human rights activist and Nobel Laureate Narges Mohammadi was issued with an extended prison sentence on Jan. 15 for allegedly “spreading propaganda” against the Islamic Republic while in prison, according to her family. She was sentenced to an additional 15 months in prison, following a series of statements and letters which she publicly shared criticizing conditions inside Evin prison, the treatment of female inmates and Iran’s government. 

The human rights activist also received a two-year travel ban on residing in Tehran and neighboring provinces, which means that she will have to be transferred from Evin to another jail outside the area. 

Johan Floderus, the detained Swedish national charged with several offenses including “spreading corruption on earth” and “espionage,” attended a fourth hearing on Jan. 14 at branch 26 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court. Floderus was cross-examined by the prosecution and questioned about emails and phone communications as well as his alleged connections to the Swedish Ministry of Defense and Army, according to a report by Mizan. 

Floderus was arrested for several offenses including spying on April 16, 2022 by Ministry of Intelligence officials. Floderus has denied the charges.

Mehdi Yarrahi, a prominent Iranian pop singer, was sentenced on Jan. 9 to two years and eight months in prison and 74 lashes following the release of a music video entitled “Rousarieto” (Your Headscarf). The composition, which is a protest against the country’s forced hijab law, sparked a movement across social media in which people shared dance videos that featured the song.  Yarrahi’s attorney, Zahra Minooei, said the singer had been temporarily let out of Evin prison after posting a $300,000 bail.  

As well as imposing harsher punishments, Iran’s regime has stepped up its use of the death penalty for political prisoners. 

Four members of a political opposition party in Iran received death sentences in Iran’s Revolutionary Court, according to a Jan. 8 report by the US-based Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA). Mohsen Mazloum, Pezhman Fatehi, Vafa Azarbar, and Hazhir Faramarzi were arrested on July 23, 2022 in the Sumay-ye Beradust District of Urmia County. The charges against the men have not been disclosed and their whereabouts remain unknown, according to family members who spoke to HRANA. 

Iran is the second most active country after China for its use of the death penalty and is the world’s most prolific executioner of women and children. 

The country remains in the top five in terms of its imprisonment of journalists in 2023, according to a Dec. 29 report by RSF. The report found that 58 reporters had been detained for at least 48 hours in 2023, while 21 journalists remained detained in Iran’s prisons as of Dec. 29. An estimated 500 women’s rights campaigners also remain in jail. 

Ashoori said it was important not to “get lost in the debates that cause division between Iranians and to focus on the actions of these women and the solidarity of the ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’ movement, because these people are putting their lives on the line.”

 “They’re doing it for them and for us and for future generations,” she added. “So if we want that as well, we really should put our women on a pedestal and make them lead as examples for the rest of us.” 

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