As authorities step up their efforts to stifle free speech in Iran, journalists and bloggers have been particularly targeted, subjected to unjust, vague charges. Over the last four years, their personal freedoms have been violated and their activities severely limited.
In this comprehensive series, IranWire sets out to compile a portfolio on the legal and political persecution of Iranian journalists and bloggers—to raise awareness of their cases, and as a means of documenting them.
The profiles of jailed journalists will be published in both Persian and English, and we will strive to include the most up to date, verifiable information available. We ask readers and supporters to get in touch if they know of updates on cases or can provide further information, by emailing us at [email protected].
We will publish a new profile of a persecuted Iranian journalist or blogger each day, with a view to developing them as an interactive feature after the series is underway. The series will also be available in PDF in both both Persian and English.
This portfolio will be the first step towards a full documentation of the human rights situation in Iran. This, we hope, will ensure the international community is informed of what life is like for journalists and activists in Iran today. The project aims to support civil rights activists in the Islamic Republic—who need our support now more than ever.
Jila Baniyaghoob, Arrested in 2009 Following the Disputed Presidential Election
Name: Jila Baniyaghoob
Born: 1970, Iran
Career: Journalist, blogger, women’s and civil rights activist, editor of reformist daily Sarmayeh, and editor-in-chief of the website Kanoon Zanan Irani ("Iranian Women’s Society").
Awards: Courage In Journalism from International Women's Media Foundation (2009), International Press Freedom Award from Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (2009) and Freedom of Speech Award from Reporters Without Borders (2010).
Charges: Activities against national security and propaganda against the regime.
Jila Baniyaghoob and her husband Bahman Ahmadi Amouee were arrested on the night of June 20, 2009 during the aftermath of the disputed presidential election and the widespread crackdown on protests. She was released on bail on June 23, but a year later, she was sentenced to one year in prison and banned from journalism for 30 years. The presiding authority on her case, Judge Pir-Abbasi of the Revolutionary Court, had been subject to European Union sanctions for violations of human rights in 2011.
A verdict was not reached until September 2012, when she arrived at Evin Prison to serve her sentence. She was released in June 2013. Her husband remained in prison, serving a five-year sentence.
“It has been exactly five years since that night. At around 11pm, six or seven plainclothesmen from the Ministry of Intelligence entered our home,” Baniyaghoob posted on her Facebook page on June 20. “They turned the house upside down for a few hours and bagged a lot of stuff to take with them...that night when I was coming down the stairs, with Bahman surrounded by Intelligence Ministry agents, I never thought that after five years he would still be in prison.”
“From the very first days, when interrogations started, it was very unsettling,” she told IranWire about her arrest. “We were sitting on chairs, which we knew had been occupied before by people we knew. They had sat there and had been questioned. We got no news from the outside world and we did not know who was inside and who was out." Asked to sit in a chair and write down on a pad of paper what events had led to her interrogation, she scanned the notebook. "Maybe I could find a sign left by a previous occupant,” she said. During one interrogation sitting, she saw the names of Abdollah Momeni, student leader and pro-democracy activist, and Ali Tajernia, a member of opposition politician Mir Hossein Moussavi’s staff, scrawled on the chair’s arm.
“That's how I got news that some friends had been arrested,” she recalled. “In those fearful times, those scrawled names or even words scratched on cell walls were like a window to the outside world. The yard in Evin had a metal door and I had no news from Bahman. I imagined that they allowed him into the same area to take a breath of fresh air. I took a piece of metal and scratched a message on the door which said 'Hello Bahman. You okay? I am okay.' Later I learned that Bahman was never taken to that yard but that message comforted many fellow detainees."
When Baniyaghoob was at Evin her husband was furloughed and allowed out of prison for a few days, but authorities rejected Baniyaghoob's request for a leave of absence so that she could meet him.
Baniyaghoob was charged with propaganda against the regime. During the trial her lawyer Farideh Ghairat stated that the accusation was baseless. “The evidence the Intelligence Ministry claims is on file,” she told the court, “all relate to my client's professional activities as an independent and impartial journalist.”
“When the "brothers" raid a home,” Baniyaghoob wrote on Facebook, referring to Intelligence Ministry agents, “I don’t understand why they should engage in insults and beatings while searching the house. Doesn’t this damage the effectiveness of their search? I have not been able to find an answer, except this: they are not professionals and don’t know their job. During one of these inspections, when they took Bahman from Evin Prison to our home to search the house and find ‘important’ evidence, they forcibly pushed him into the car, beat him and tore his shirt. His hand was so injured that it took a long time for it to heal.”
Baniyaghoob recently published a book of memoirs about her incarceration. Women of Evin: Ward 209 was first published in Sweden and later in the United States.
For furthe information about the case of Jila Baniyaghoob, read Blacklisted Journalists: In Limbo between Prison and Freedom
This is part of IranWire’s series Crime: Journalism, a portfolio on the legal and political persecution of Iranian journalists and bloggers, published in both Persian and English.
Please contact [email protected] with comments, updates or further information about cases.
Read other cases in the series: