Iran: the relentless persecution of Narges Mohammadi must stop
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has requested an urgent UN response to the latest attempts by Iranian prison officials to silence a well-known journalist held since November 2021. For writing public letters from prison, they are cutting her off from the outside world and are threatening to increase her sentence.
Updated on the 7th of August 2023 , Narges Mohammadi’s sentence had been increased by 1 year of imprisonment, bringing it to a total of 10 years and 9 months, along with 154 lashes, for denouncing violence against female detainees. This relentless persecution must stop, she should be released immediately.
The 2022 RSF Prize for Courage laureate, Narges Mohammadi is no longer allowed visits or phone calls in Tehran’s Evin prison because she wrote a public letter from prison entitled “Speaking to save Iran” and another one denouncing the sexual violence to which women detainees are subjected. The prison authorities have also brought new charges against her with the aim of prolonging her imprisonment.
“Narges Mohammadi’s case is emblematic of the unrelenting persecution of journalists by the Iranian authorities with the aim of silencing them. Evin prison’s walls will never be able to stifle Mohammadi’s voice. The more the Iranian authorities try to silence her, the louder her words resound. The arbitrary detention and vindictive punishment to which she is being subjected must terminate at once. To this end, we appeal to the competent bodies within the United Nations.”
On 7 June, RSF referred the violation of Mohammadi’s rights for more than a decade and the current vindicative reprisals against her by prison officials to the UN special rapporteurs on freedom of expression, on the human rights situation in Iran, on torture, and on violence against women, and to the UN Working group on Arbitrary Detention.
RSF asked them to take “urgent” action to obtain her immediate release and, at the same time, again urged the UN to publicly condemn the extremely aggressive crackdown on journalists in Iran since the start of a huge wave of protests in September 2022.
A contributor to many newspapers and the author of a book entitled “White Torture” that is based on her interviews with women prisoners, Mohammadi has repeatedly been arrested and jailed during the past 12 years.
The target of charges, convictions and punitive measures ever since her latest arrest on 16 November 2021, she now faces the possibility of a third increase in her prison sentence over a December 2022 open letter in which she alerted the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran to sexual assaults against women in prison. Relatives have told RSF she has been charged with "contact with foreign organisations opposed to the Islamic Republic” and is threatened with additional proceedings in connection with her activities within the prison.
“Evin prison’s walls will never be able to stifle Mohammadi’s voice”
Despite constant harassment aimed at reducing her to silence, Mohammadi has never yielded and has continued to make her voice heard. She used to receive regular visits from family members who are still living in Iran, but her visitation rights were restricted in January following the publication of her open letter on sexual assaults in prison.
In April, when she managed to circulate a new letter entitled “Speaking to save Iran,” the prison authorities retaliated by formally banning her from receiving any visits at all. In the following weeks, Mohammadi and other women political prisoners signed several statements and organised a sit-in in the prison yard to denounce executions in Iran. Further reprisals were not long in coming. Banned from receiving international phone calls for the past 13 months, she is now banned from receiving any calls at all.
More than a year has passed since Mohammadi had any direct telephone contact with her two children and her husband, the writer Taghi Rahmani, who live in France. Rahmani told RSF: “Our dream of freedom, a secular society and equality in Iran gives both of us the strength to keep going, one day at a time.” But he worries what a longer sentence could mean for the family. “It is very difficult. We thought we would be separated for another eight years, and now we learn that she could stay in prison much longer. We hope this will end one day.”
Mohammadi, who is also spokesperson for Iran’s Centre for Human Rights Defenders, has been in and out of prison ever since her first arrest in 1998 for criticising the Iranian government. Her latest arrest, in November 2021, barely a year after her latest release, occurred during an event marking the second anniversary of a violent crackdown in 2019. She was granted a medical furlough on 22 February 2022 but it was suddenly terminated seven weeks later.
Since then, she has been one of the most combative women detainees in Evin prison, where she was recently joined by two other women journalists – Shargh newspaper reporter Niloofar Hamedi and Ham Mihan newspaper reporter Elaheh Mohammadi – who became symbols of Iran’s “Woman-Life-Freedom” protest movement after their arrests for covering Kurdish student Mahsa Amini’s death in police custody and subsequent funeral.