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The Tangled Web of Political and Security Charges against Journalists and Labor Activists

May 24, 2019
Javad Motevali
7 min read
Journalist Marzieh Amiri is under interrogation at Evin Prison
Journalist Marzieh Amiri is under interrogation at Evin Prison
An imprisoned women’s rights activist is being interrogated at Evin Prison
An imprisoned women’s rights activist is being interrogated at Evin Prison

More than three weeks after workers and teachers staged a protest rally outside the Iranian parliament to mark International Workers’ Day, which ended in violence and arrests, the fate of eight arrested people remains unknown.

The eight protesters have different backgrounds. Nahid Khodajoo is a retiree and a member of the Free Union of Iranian Workers’ board of directors, and Farhad Sheikhi is a member of the same union. Marzieh Amiri is a journalist with the reformist paper Shargh. Hasan Saeedi is a member of Tehran Unified Bus Company workers' union. Atefeh Rangriz and Neda Naji are women’s rights activists. Keyvan Samimi is the editor-in-chief of the monthly Iran-e Farda and Azam (Nasrin) Khezri-Javadi is a retired worker.

According to the latest reports, Farhad Sheikhi and Hasan Saeedi are being interrogated at Ward 209 of Evin Prison, where detainees are kept in solitary confinement. Three of the arrested women — Nahid Khodajoo, Marzieh Amiri and Samaneh Taheri — have also been transferred to Evin’s Ward 209. Three other women — Atefeh Rangriz, Neda Naji and Azam Khezri-Javadi — have been transferred to Gharchak Prison in Varamin, located in a desert on the outskirts of Tehran.

After a twitterstorm in support of the detainees, some family members of the jailed activists were allowed to meet them on May 24. “Today, after 23 days, they allowed us a visit in the booth and we were able to see her from behind the glass partition”, tweeted Jamal Ameli, the husband of Neda Naji. “She said that she was still being interrogated and that she had been transferred to a two-inmate cell.”

“Today I met Marzieh Amiri in the booth,” tweeted her sister Samira Amiri. “She was in good physical condition and her morale was high but, after 22 days, she is still under the pressure of interrogations.”


Prosecutor Not Aware of the Number of Arrested

On May 4, in response to a question about those detained on May Day, Iran’s Attorney-General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri said: “God willing, a number of them will be processed as soon as possible and will be released” [Persian link]. He added that he was unaware of the number of detainees.

On the same day, the families of the detainees gathered outside Evin Courthouse to inquire about their loved ones, but only two of them were allowed to enter the courthouse to act as the representatives of the rest. They were not given any specific information and court officials agreed to supply Nasrin Javadi with the medication she needed, but did not make similar arrangements for any of the other detainees. Earlier, on May 2, some of the families were told to bring documents and pay stubs to the courthouse, indicating that the detainees’ release on bail was imminent but they were not freed.

In a statement on May 8, the Free Union of Tehran Journalists demanded the unconditional release of all detainees, especially the journalists, based on the right to organize marches and rallies as affirmed by Article 27 of the constitution. It that: “Unarmed assemblies and marches may be freely organized, provided that no violation of the foundations of Islam is involved.”

“The gathering outside the Iranian parliament on May 1 was entirely disciplined and peaceful but it was met by police violence,” said the statement.

IranWire talked to legal scholar Moeen Khazaeli about the ordeal. “It seems that the Islamic Republic regime has no intention of acting according to Article 27 of the constitution. This article says nothing about the need for permits for assemblies. But Clause 2 of Article 6 of Political Parties Law holds that organizing public demonstrations requires a permit from the Ministry of Interior.”

“In spite of this contradiction,” Khazaeli said, “the parliament is doing nothing to resolve it and there is no will to act according to Article 27 of the constitution. Despite this article, the Interior Ministry declares almost all assemblies as illegal so that it can both devalue the protests and prosecute the participants for taking part in an illegal gathering. And let us not forget that the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic considers any kind of assembly that weakens the regime to be illegal, be it by workers or not.”


Journalists Demand the Release of their Colleagues

In separate letters to the head of Tehran’s Justice Bureau, to the judiciary spokesman and to Tehran’s prosecutor, the Free Union of Tehran Journalists demanded the release of Shargh journalist Marzieh Amiri. And on May 14, 27 civil and political activists issued a statement, protesting against the continued detention of Keyvan Samimi and demanding his immediate release [Persian link].

Keyvan Samimi, editor-in-chief of the monthly Iran-e Farda, is currently at Evin Prison and under interrogation. After he was arrested, security agents raided the magazine’s office and confiscated all laptops and documents.

Samimi was arrested one day after the disputed 2009 presidential election and was sentenced to six years in prison and banned from political activities for life on charges of “propaganda against the regime,” “assembly and conspiracy against national security,” participation in protests and issuing a statement questioning the official election results. He was released in 2015 after serving his sentence but he is now back in prison.

According to Mehdi Rahmanian, managing editor of Shargh, during a press conference held by the new judiciary chief Ebrahim Raeesi on May 21, an editor asked about the arrests of journalists. Gholamhossein Esmaili, the judiciary spokesman responded, saying that there was only one journalist [Marzieh Amiri] in prison but that she was being held “not because she is a journalist, but because she has been charged with security offenses. She was arrested on the street.”

Rahmanian says that he told Esmaili: “She might have other charges but she was arrested because she was at a worker’s rally as a journalist to write a report and that was the reason for her arrest.” According to Rahmanian, Raeesi then reiterated that Amiri was arrested on security charges, not for reporting.

On the same day, Gholamhossein Esmaili said that since the charges against Marzieh Amiri were security-related she was not allowed to choose her own lawyer. Under a controversial law passed in 2015, people arrested on security charges cannot choose their lawyers before interrogations and investigations are complete and are forced to select from a small list of lawyers approved by the head of the judiciary.

“Considering that Marzieh Amiri was in the rally as a reporter and a legal news organization has said that she was doing her job as a reporter, her arrest can in no way be justified as [being in connection with] participating in an illegal assembly or disrupting public order,” Khazaeli said. “That is why the Iranian judiciary has declared that charges against her are security-related.”

Anything Can be Called “Activities Against National Security”

Khazaeli speculates that one of the charges against Amiri is activities against national security. “In general, this charge is more a political one than a charge based on laws and legal” meanings of the phrase, he says. “The political nature of this charge can be seen not only in the performance of the judiciary but also in the definition of ‘activities against national security’ in the law, which is so broad that it can apply any activity. Add to this the fact that the law provides no specifics and leaves it to the court to decide what constitutes such activities. Because of this, the charge of activities against national security has become a pretext to suppress individual and social freedoms.”

In answer to a question about the arrests of labor activists and the charges against them, Khazaeli told IranWire that none the detainees were arrested as “labor activists.” “There is no such crime in the laws of Iran,” he says. “The 1993 bylaws for the creation of labor professional associations — itself the subject of Article 131 of the Labor Law — recognizes labor unions. The charge leveled against them, as the judiciary officials and especially the judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili have repeatedly said, is activities against national security. In the first week after the arrest, Esmaili himself said that these individuals had been arrested by the police on two clear charges: Participating in an illegal gathering and disrupting public order.”


Related Coverage:

Judge Insults Journalist and Orders his Arrest, May 23, 2019

Shargh Journalist Faces Further Interrogations at Evin Prison, May 14, 2019

Workers Beaten and Arrested at May Day Parade, May 1, 2019

Appeals Court Upholds Prison Sentence for Journalist, April 29, 2019

Crackdown on Labor Activists on Eve of May Day, April 29, 2019

Labor Activists Face Intense Pressure for Another TV Confession, February 22, 2019

Authorities Threaten Labor Activists, Families and Lawyers Following Media Interviews, February 13, 2019

Intelligence Ministry Takes Revenge on Labor Activist, February 4, 2019

Torture of Arrested Labor Activists and Their Families Continues, February 1, 2019

Iranian TV Airs Forced Confessions of Labor Activists, January 23, 2019

Labor Protests and Arrests Continue, December 12, 2018



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