Witch Hunt in Iran: Grave Concerns for Journalists Niloofar Hamedi and Elahe Mohammadi
Unable to Crush Protests, State Resorts to Smearing Female Reporters with Sham Accusations
November 1, 2022 – The Iranian government’s fabricated accusations against two unlawfully detained female journalists, Niloofar Hamedi and Elahe Mohammadi, who face severe punishments without access to due process, are part of the state’s efforts to slander the country’s protest movement and should be strongly condemned, said the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).
“This witch hunt is a cowardly attempt by the Islamic Republic to pin its many failures on two women journalists, to deflect attention from the repressive policies that gave birth to the country’s organic and growing protest movement,” said CHRI executive director Hadi Ghaemi.
“Journalistic institutions, rights groups, and world leaders should forcefully condemn the fabricated claims against these two women journalists and all members of the media who are being persecuted by the state for doing their job,” said Ghaemi.
“The authorities are desperately trying to suppress information, including by locking up journalists, shutting down the internet, and intimidating families, in order to conceal evidence of state atrocities that Iranian authorities are committing against the people of Iran,” he added.
“Now more than ever, we need to keep the spotlight on Iran and pursue collective, international action to stop the Islamic Republic’s killing and unlawful imprisonment of innocent Iranians,” he said.
- CHRI calls on governments worldwide to recall their ambassadors and summon Iran’s diplomats to protest the Islamic Republic’s actions.
- World leaders should pursue an urgent special session at the U.N. Human Rights Council to establish an independent investigative and accountability mechanism for these serious crimes.
- The Islamic Republic should be removed from the Commission on the Status of Women, given its ongoing atrocities against women and girls.
- Governments should pursue a resolution at the U.N. General Assembly condemning the state atrocities against peaceful protesters and journalists and calling for the release of detainees.
Niloofar Hamedi and Elahe Mohammadi Face Wrath of State Security Apparatus
In a statement filled with unsubstantiated claims, the Intelligence Ministry and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Intelligence Organization issued a joint statement on October 28, 2022, claiming that Hamedi and Mohammadi were “foreign agents” engaged in “multi-dimensional wars” organized by “Western and Zionist intelligence agencies… to carry out serious and uninterrupted planning with the aim of influencing different social layers, especially in areas related to women.”
“The intelligence agencies’ statement aims to smear Hamedi and Mohammadi in order to justify the sham prosecution and harsh punishments to come, even though they were only doing their duties as journalists,” said Ghaemi.
The statement incorrectly claimed that Niloofar Hamedi, 30, had published a photo of Mahsa Zhina Amini in a hospital bed that went viral on social media networks. Amini’s death on September 16, 2022, three days after she was arrested by Iran’s morality police in Tehran, has sparked weeks of nationwide, anti-state protests.
Yet Hamedi, who works for the Shargh newspaper in Tehran, never tweeted a photo of Amini in a hospital bed; she had only tweeted a photo of Mahsa’s parents embracing in the hospital.
“During Niloufar’s arrest, the security officers took away all of our electronic devices, including mobile phones, laptops, hard drives, flash drives, and recorders, and have not returned them yet,” tweeted her husband.
“If Niloufar took a photo of Mahsa Amini, show the evidence,” he added, referring to the fact that there never was such a tweet by Hamedi in the first place.
Hamedi’s Twitter account disappeared after she was detained by state security forces on September 20.
“Surely if Niloufar or any other journalist could have taken a photo of Mahsa on the hospital bed, it would have been an obvious professional duty to publish it,” he added. “However, publicizing a false allegation shows that concerns regarding the making of a false case against Niloufar were not unfounded.”
Elahe Mohammadi, 35, meanwhile, who works for the Ham-Mihan newspaper, was detained on September 29 for traveling to the city of Saqqez, to report on Amini’s funeral.
“My sister Elahe Mohammadi is a reporter for an officially-licensed newspaper,” tweeted Mohammadi’s sister. “She traveled to Saqqez with permission from Mihan newspaper and sent a number of reports to the same official outlet. As the editor of the social desk, I and all others working at this newspaper swear on our honor to this fact.”
Mehdi Rahmanian, Shargh’s editor-in-chief, said on October 29: “These individuals are journalists who were doing their job…. Everything they are saying about [Niloufar Hamedi] is a lie. She wasn’t the first to publish Mahsa Amini’s photo. Other photos had been published earlier. Niloufar was coordinating with me from start to finish. Publishing photos and news is the duty of any reporter and whoever did this, was doing his/her job.”
In a joint statement, more than 500 members of the media in Iran condemned the persecution of Hamedi and Mohammadi and called for their release.
“The great Iranian society will not be able to deal with the threats of today’s complex world without responsible citizens like Elahe Mohammadi and Niloufar Hamedi and other journalists behind bars. Don’t blind society’s eyes; let’s free the journalists,” said the statement.
Muzzling Journalists While Killing Hundreds and Detaining Thousands
At least 51 journalists have been arrested in Iran since protests broke out on September 16, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. They are among more than 14,000 who’ve been arrested, according to Human Rights Activist News Agency (HRANA), which has also counted at least 272 individuals who’ve been killed amid lethal force being used by state security forces to crush the protests.
In a meeting of the Judiciary’s Supreme Council on October 31, 2022, Tehran Province Prosecutor Ali Alghasi Mehr said about 1,000 indictments have been issued against individuals who’ve been arrested for allegedly engaging in the protests.
In the same meeting, Judiciary Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Eje’i said, “Those who intended to confront and subvert the state with ties to foreigners, will definitely be punished according to legal standards.”
CHRI is deeply concerned for Hamedi and Mohammadi, who are being detained without access to internationally recognized standards of due process, and who could face years of imprisonment if convicted.
CHRI calls on the international community to speak out for these women, who are facing the wrath of Iran’s security state with no protection, as well as the thousands of arbitrarily and unlawfully detained individuals in Iran.
“The Islamic Republic expects the world to turn its attention away from the deadly repression of the protests so that it can kill, maim, detain, and smear innocent people like these women with impunity,” Ghaemi said.
“The Islamic Republic’s killing and imprisonment of those who dare to peacefully disagree with its policies is dramatically worsening,” he added. “World leaders must impose increasingly serious political, diplomatic and economic costs for this trampling of human rights and international law.”
*Click here to read CHRI’s recommendations to the international community to help end the Iranian government’s violent suppression of protests in Iran.
*This article was revised on November 2, 2022, to correct the name Niloufar Hamedi to Niloofar Hamedi.