Iran: journalist Elaheh Mohammadi held for past 11 months for giving a voice to women
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the release Elaheh Mohammadi, an Iranian journalist held for the past 11 months for covering the cause of women in Iran. She awaits a verdict in her trial while her twin sister, fellow journalist Elnaz Mohammadi, has just received a three-year suspended jail sentence
Elaheh Mohammadi was the only journalist to cover the funeral of Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old Kurdish student who died in police custody on 16 September after being arrested by the morality police for being “inappropriately dressed.”
Reporting from the funeral in the western city of Saqqez for the daily newspaper Ham Mihan, Elaheh told Iran and the entire world how a family and a community had buried one of their children. For this, she was arrested on 29 September 2022 and has been held ever since on charges that include “conspiracy” and “collusion.” She awaits a verdict in a trial that began on 30 May.
“As soon as the newspaper gave her the go-ahead, Elaheh bought the last airplane ticket to Sanandaj (...) and did the two-hour journey from Sanandaj to Saqqez, Mahsa Amini’s hometown, in taxi,” her twin sister Elnaz Mohammadi wrote in Ham Mihan two days after Elaheh’s arrest.
Elnaz was given a three-year suspended prison sentence on 3 September for continuing Elaheh’s work and, in particular, for covering the “Woman-Life-Freedom” protests that were triggered by Mahsa Amini’s death.
By imprisoning Elaheh Mohammadi for the past 11 months and punishing Elnaz Mohammadi, the Iranian government shows that it is determined to silence these two sister journalists and the women whose views they report. RSF calls for an end to these blind sanctions against the Mohammadi twins and all other journalists in Iran.
Sisters with shared vocation
After getting a bachelor's degree in Persian language and literature at Al Zahra University in 2009 and a master's degree in women's studies at Shahid Bahonar University in Kerman in 2011, Elaheh began covering politics and societal issues for various Iranian media outlets such as Etemaad Daily, Khabar Online, Haft-e Sobh Daily and Etemaad Online.
It was how she crossed paths with Niloofar Hamedi, a journalist who is currently a fellow detainee in Evin prison. In 2023, these two women were included in Time Magazine’s list of the world’s most influential people and were awarded the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize together with a third woman journalist, Narges Mohammadi (no relation).
Elnaz had meanwhile specialised in communication, getting a degree at Allameh Tabataba'i University in Tehran.
Writing and journalism have always been family activities with the Mohammadis. Since their childhood, the twins have shared a passion for writing, literature and poetry. Now aged 36, Elnaz and Elaheh have worked together since 2022 for one of the few reformist newspapers, Ham Mihan, which recently reopened after being closed by the government for 15 years
They also have a shared determination to make the problems of women in Iran more visible through their writing and to amplify women’s voices in a country that oppresses them. Elaheh analysed proposed legislation intended to “protect women,” and wrote about the forced marriages of young girls and the ban on women from driving motorcycles.
“Wherever there was suffering, you and your pen were there,” tweeted Fatima Rajabi, a fellow journalist who was held for three weeks after being arrested on 30 September 2022.
Persecuted by justice system
When the young Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini was taken to Tehran’s Kasra Hospital on 16 September 2022 with injuries sustained while in police custody, Elaheh was clearly interested. She got in touch with Amini’s family and became one of the first to report her views, by quoting members of her family. The only reporter at Aichi cemetery in Saqqez on the day of the funeral, she headlined her story “Land of sorrow.”
Elaheh was summoned for questioning about this story on 29 September, but intelligence officers intercepted her while she was on her way to the meeting and took her into custody. “In a brief phone call, my wife told me she was being held in wing 209 of Evin prison and that no charges had been brought against her,” her husband tweeted that evening.
Despite 17 days in solitary confinement, a smear campaign by the security forces, and a long spell in Qarchak prison, just outside Tehran, followed by a transfer back to Tehran’s Evin prison, Elaheh’s morale is still good. Her family says she recites poems in her cell and writes thank-you letters to all those supporting her on the outside. And she often reiterates her commitment to her journalism in defence of women.
Her trial began on 30 May 2023, at the end of her seventh month in prison, when the final charges were announced. They are “collusion” and ”anti-state propaganda,” which are punishable by long jail terms and possibly even the death sentence. During the most recent hearing, on 1 July, she denied all the charges.
Suspended jail term, journalism ban for Elnaz
Elnaz was arrested on 5 February 2023 for her reporting in Ham Mihan three months before about the government’s heavy-handed crackdown on journalists who had covered Mahsa Amini’s death. Released on bail after being held for a week, she was finally given a three-year suspended prison sentence by Tehran revolutionary court No. 26 on 3 September.
So, unlike her sister, Elnaz is not physically detained but she is banned from leaving the country, banned from talking to foreign media and banned from practising journalism. And she is nonetheless required to regularly attend a course on “ethical journalism” that is coordinated by none other than Iranian intelligence ministry officials.