Supporters of the two award-winning Iranian female journalists who were among the first to report on the death of Mahsa Amini, the young Kurdish woman who died last year in police custody, have demanded that their trials due to start next week are held in public.
Niloofar Hamedi and Elaheh Mohammadi, who both have a prestigious record of on-the-ground reporting on social affairs in Iran, have been kept in jail since first being arrested eight months ago and are accused of conspiring with hostile foreign powers, a charge that potentially carries the death penalty.
The regime’s critics claim they are being punished for the protests that followed their reports of Amini’s death, after she was arrested for not wearing the hijab correctly on a visit to Tehran.
Their trial can be regarded as a test of the limited media freedom in Iran and also the ability of the regime to absorb any lessons from the protests, rather than resorting to greater suppression.
Iran admits Amini died in police custody, but says this was a result of a pre-existing neurological or heart condition. Her family says she was beaten in a police van.
Hamedi, who works for the reformist Shargh Daily newspaper, went to Kasra hospital where Amini died and tweeted a photograph of Amini’s parents hugging and comforting one another in a corridor. “The black dress of mourning has become our national flag,” she wrote alongside it.
Mohammadi wrote a vivid account for Hammihan newspaper of the grief and anger of the 1,000 mourners at the burial ceremony for Amini in her native town of Saqqez, in the western province of Kurdistan. On Amini’s grave was written: “You won’t die. Your name will become a symbol.” Mohammadi was arrested on 22 September, and her computer confiscated.
The women have been accused by the Revolutionary Guards of publishing information that became a primary source of information by foreign sources. The two are being tried separately by the revolutionary courts, with Mohammadi’s trial starting on Monday and Hamedi’s on Tuesday.
Mohammadi’s husband, Saeed Parsaei, has protested at the length of his wife’s detention without bail. He told the reformist newspaper Etemaad : “At the personal and policy level the main question from our perspective is why these two people were arrested for performing their professional and legal duties.”
He said the demand for a public hearing was coming not just from the family and the journalistic profession but the wider public. “Why should the judicial system worry about the court being held in public?” he asked. “And if there is no proof and documents, the secrecy of the court does not help its acceptance by the society and only adds to the scope of mistrust.”
He admitted he did not know if it would be better or not to complain in public about their treatment.
Hamedi’s husband, Mohammad Hossein Ajorlou, said the charges of working with hostile powers were baseless and an open court hearing would be a chance for the quality of the evidence against his wife to be exposed to public view. He said the right to a public trial was part of Iran’s constitution.
Access to lawyers had been restricted, he claimed, and the announcement of the trial date had been made before the accused were even informed. He recalled that his wife said: “More than all solitary confinement and prison, my heart broke when I heard my accusation. I love so many Iranians and everything I did was for Iran, yet they accused me of collaborating with hostile powers.”
In a lengthy joint statement in October, the ministry of intelligence and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps claimed to have exposed a giant CIA conspiracy to undermine Iran and said the two women had been on CIA or US State Department-controlled training courses overseas.
Since their arrests, the two have won the UN’s press freedom prize, as well as numerous other awards.
Their appeal for an open court came as the editor-in-chief of Etemad newspaper, Behrouz Behzadi, was jailed for six months and fined for publishing a series of articles during the protests that undermined the basis of the Islamic republic. One of the articles detailed the scale of the economic crisis facing Iran’s poorest. The case had been brought by the IRGC.
Separately, nearly 100 lawyers were summoned to Evin security court and asked to sign a document expressing their personal remorse for their support for the protests. It appears those who refuse to sign will be debarred from continuing to work as lawyers.