Oct 23, 2023
The initial verdict for detained journalists Elahe Mohammadi and Niloofar Hamedi was announced yesterday October 22, which also happens to be Niloofar's birthday.
Both journalists had previously been detained for covering the death of Mahsa Amini and its aftermath. Niloofar Hamedi had shared a photograph depicting the grief of Mahsa Amini's family, featuring her parents, while Elahe Mohammadi wrote a report on Mahsa's funeral titled "A Nation in Mourning."
The 15th branch of the Tehran Revolutionary Court, presided over by Abulqasem Salavati, sentenced Elahe to 12 years in prison and Niloofar to 13 years in prison.
Adding to the severity of the punishment, they were also barred from engaging in journalism, as well as social and political activities for two years.
Many have since taken to social media platforms to express their outrage at the severity of these sentences.
Sadness and Outrage at Harsh Sentencing
Few individuals have articulated the injustice done to Elahe Mohammadi and Niloofar Hamedi more eloquently than Mohammad Hossein Ajarlou and Saeed Parsaei – husbands of the two women.
They are clinging to hope in a judicial system that has held their loved ones in captivity for 13 long months, all because they dared to tell the truth.
Over these 13 months, Ajarlou and Parsaei have written extensively about the injustices perpetrated against their wives. However, the posts made in the hours following the official announcement of the journalists' sentences reveal an added layer of despair and sorrow.
In his first post on the X, formerly known as Twitter, Saeed Parsaei shared an image of Elahe and Niloofar, with her back to the sun and hands raised in victory, along with these words: "Shame on you oppressors, for what you are doing to honor and humanity."
Mohammad Hossein Ajarlou said, "These sentences are the result of Niloofar Hamedi and Elahe Mohammadi's honest and honorable work."
He added: "They've not only been handed a 25-year prison sentence [in total] but also a ludicrous ban on practicing journalism. We still hold hope that these judgments will be overturned and that Elahe and Niloofar will be set free at the earliest possible moment."
A mere few hours before the pronouncement of this verdict, he marked his wife's 31st birthday.
"May I be sacrificed for you,” Ajarlou added. "Today, you've turned 31, while having turned 30 last year in the detention center," he wrote on X.
"We're uncertain how many more birthdays you'll spend behind those walls, as it remains unclear how long it takes to write a judgment. Nevertheless, we know that, together, we will triumph over all adversity and celebrate freedom," he wrote.
Elahe's sister, Elnaz Mohammadi, who is also a journalist, posted similarly heartbroken messages.
Elnaz wrote on X, "Now you've been sentenced to 12 years in prison. I've been whispering those two words all morning: 12 years, 12 years! Then I read that everyone is saying it'll be reduced to six years, and I whisper again: six years? Six years? Oh, my captive little bird, I'm frustrated at not being able to change a thing.”
Beyond family members, several other journalists, from seasoned Iranian journalist Mohammed Aghazadeh to Elahe and Niloufer's friends and colleagues, expressed similar grief and astonishment at the cruel punishments handed down by the Islamic Republic's judicial system up to this point and its intentions for the future.
In this vein, Aghazadeh wrote on X: "I despise, feel ashamed, and reproach myself for choosing the path of journalism [yet] my inability to assist two young colleagues, Elahe Mohammadi and Nilufar Hamedi."
Yashar Sultani, a journalist previously imprisoned for exposing corruption in Tehran, posted: "Do you realize that the sentence for [Revolutionary Guards officer responsible for] the Ukrainian plane crash was more lenient than these two dear female journalists?"
Apart from individual journalists, the Tehran Journalists Union, one of the few remaining journalists' unions in Iran, also opposed these verdicts in a statement.
The association, which had earlier called for a public trial for Elahe and Niloofar, reiterated this demand and said, "Persuading public opinion through closed (both in camera and unannounced) trials and referencing unexamined documents in open court, especially in the current circumstances of the country, is unacceptable."
Where is the Justice?
Milad Alavi, a reporter at Shargh newspaper and a colleague of Niloofar, also voiced his concerns in a tweet saying that the sentences give to Niloofar and Elahe exposed legal flaws in their cases and were therefore unjust.
In light of these mistakes and inaccuracies, including erroneously introducing Aida Ghajar, a senior reporter for IranWire, as an "editor-in-chief," social media users have viewed these errors as evidence of a case being built against Niloofar and Elahe.
Journalists and civil activists are not the only ones to have decried the unfairness of the sentences and the errors in the case. Lawyers have also taken a stand. Legal experts have emphasized that the charges against the two journalist have lacked evidentiary support.
The Dadban legal group, which offers legal counsel to arrested protesters and the families of those killed, posting on X, was among those that highlighting the illegitimacy of the verdict and sentences.
"The charge ‘endangering national security' lacks concrete and practical examples in the case.
Essentially, within the context of the accusation of 'collaboration with hostile states,' aside from the fact that there is no clear definition of this accusation in the law and the meaning of 'hostile state' is not defined, the proof of committing a criminal act (collaboration) is highly questionable.
From a legal standpoint, 'collaboration' is a concept where a shared intention and motive for cooperation are prerequisites for the commission of a criminal act," the group said.
And other individuals, including lawyers in exile, have raised questions about Judge Abulqasem Salavati's actions and his perceived alignment with Iranian security agencies.
Tanaz Kolahchian, a lawyer, tweeted: "A so-called court known as Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court, which seems to take pride in issuing heavy and unjust sentences. I believe there is no will or thought in crafting these judgments."
Others have also noted the recent declaration by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which recognized only Israel as a hostile country, indicating that the accusation of "collaboration with hostile governments" runs contrary to laws and procedures even within the Islamic Republic itself.
A Social Media Storm: Celebrating the Integrity of Truth-Tellers
A significant portion of Persian language users on the X social network and Instagram have meanwhile celebrated Elahe Mohammadi and Niloofar Hamedi as "Champions of Truth.”
The passionate movement, which has gained momentum in Iran since the evening of Sunday, October 22, seeks to amplify the voices of these two journalists and their families. Activists have gained a warm reception from various and sometimes divergent groups.
From civil activists within Iran, environmental advocates, lawyers and legal experts, to journalists both within and beyond Iran's borders, the resounding chorus remains consistent; freedom for Elahe and Niloofar.