Niloofar Hamedi – the imprisoned journalist who covered the death of Mahsa Amini in Iran
It was one of Niloofar Hamedi’s photographs that confirmed to the world that Mahsa Amini had died in police custody in Tehran on 16 September 2022. It is because of this photo that this journalist is still in Evin prison a year later. She has been jailed since 22 September 2022 for covering the young Kurdish woman’s death.
The photo showed a clearly grieving couple hugging each other in a deserted hospital corridor. When Shargh Daily newspaper reporter Niloofar Hamedi posted this photo of Mahsa Amini’s parents on Twitter (now called X) on 16 September 2022, the young Kurdish woman’s name had been circulating online of several hours. In whispered conversations and discreet online messages, Iranians were saying the morality police had beaten her on 13 September for not wearing a hijab properly. With this photo, Hamedi became one of the first journalists to confirm her death.
The 29-year-old journalist was at home on the morning of 16 September when a Shargh Daily colleague called her. Sources at Tehran’s Kasra hospital had seen a young woman in the emergency department. They thought it was Mahsa Amini and that she was in coma as a result of the beating she had received from the police.
Hamedi went to the hospital and met Amini’s parents just minutes after the 22-year-old woman’s death had been confirmed. She immediately posted her photo of a grieving family, knowing that it revealed information that the authorities want to conceal. Their desire for secrecy was evidenced by the strong security presence around the hospital, as well as their firm instructions to the media not to publish anything about the case.
“Niloofar's commitment to exposing the truth through the lens of her camera and her words offer a glimmer of hope,” one of her former colleagues, who asked not to be identified, told Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
Six days later, on 22 September, the police arrested her at her home and her X account was suspended. She was accused of “conspiracy and rebellion against national security” and “anti-state propaganda.” Nearly a year later, she is still in Evin prison awaiting the verdict of the courts following the trial that began on 30 March, after she had spent six month in provisional detention.
"Niloofar Hamedi's courage and commitment must be rewarded, not punished. Her imprisonment for almost a year illustrates the Islamic Republic's terrible repression of journalists, and their rejection of press freedom and reliable information. We demand that she and her fellow detained journalists be released unconditionally.
Covering women, and violence against them
A specialist in women’s rights, Hamedi was known for tackling subjects that few journalists dare to cover. In June 2022, she covered an incident for Shargh Daily that was similar to the one that led to Mahsa Amini’s death. The Tehran morality police shot and wounded a man in a park after arresting his wife for allegedly not wearing her hijab properly. Hamedi contacted the victims repeatedly and convinced them to talk, thereby revealing to the whole world a reality that the authorities were trying to suppress. As she later did in the Amini case.
It was also Hamedi who reported a 16-year-old girl’s murder by her husband in July 2022, and covered the self-immolation of several women in September 2022 to escape domestic violence. The common thread of her work has been to draw attention to cases of women who have been silenced in one form or another.
“Niloofar Hamedi is a modest journalist,” someone close to her said, asking not to be identified for safety reasons. “She is not motivated by fame or money. She just wants to report the truth. That’s it.”
Sport, and writing
Born in the northern city of Babol on 22 October 1992, Hamedi grew up with sports and writing as her passions. When she was accepted into the physical education programme at the University of Tehran in 2012, she dedicated herself to sports journalism. This was how, as a journalist, she realized one of her dreams, which was to attend a football match despite the ban on women entering stadiums. Since then, she has fought for all women to have the right to attend sports events. Her transition to journalism about women's rights is easy to understand.
After working as a reporter for the reformist daily Etemad, she began reporting for Shargh Daily in 2020. “She has always said that journalists have a duty to protect their profession,” one of her superiors told RSF.
Hamedi's work has been recognised internationally since that time. Along with two other journalists who are also now in prison, Elaheh Mohammadi and Narges Mohammadi, she was awarded the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize in 2023. Time Magazine ranked her, as well as Mohammadi, among the 100 most influential people in the world in 2023.
“I want to be a journalist forever”
Hamedi is facing the possibility of a heavy sentence. If precedent is a guide, it could even be a death sentence. However, her husband and loyal defender, fellow journalist Mohammad Hossein Ajorlou, often speaks on his X account about his wife's determination and good humour under all circumstances. A fervent athlete, she practices yoga in her cell, plays volleyball and excels in the prison’s table tennis competitions.
“Enduring imprisonment is like training for a marathon,” she told her husband. “Suffering every day, persisting over the long term, and no matter how hard you train, it’s not enough. Imagining the feeling of happiness when you reach the finishing line makes up for the pain.”
In September 2022, a few days before her arrest, Hamedi and her husband travelled to Qazvin, a city 150 km west of the capital. It was on this trip that she told her husband about the satisfaction she had felt in shedding light on the Mahsa Amini case. “I think I want to be a journalist forever,” she told him.
Hamedi is one of the 30 women journalists who have been interrogated, arrested or jailed in Iran since 16 September 2022 for their coverage of Amini’s death and the “Woman-Life-Freedom” protest movement that her death triggered. In all, more than 80 journalists have been detained since then.