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Photographer Held on Blasphemy Charges Appeals for Help

August 27, 2019
Shima Shahrabi
6 min read
Photographer Nooshin Jafari used to work for a reformist newspaper, but has been concentrating on her photography for the last decade, covering cinema and theater events
Photographer Nooshin Jafari used to work for a reformist newspaper, but has been concentrating on her photography for the last decade, covering cinema and theater events
Activist Shiva Nazarahari's tweet about Jafari's appeal from prison
Activist Shiva Nazarahari's tweet about Jafari's appeal from prison

An Iranian human rights activist and journalist has released audio clips of jailed photographer Nooshin Jafari appealing to her for help.

“Dear Shiva, I’m under intense pressure here,” Jafari says in the message, which journalist Shiva Nazarahari made public on August 25. “Please give me the username, password, and email for the Yar-e Dabestani (‘schoolmate’) Twitter handle. They will put your family under pressure too if you don’t send them to me. Please help me survive. Now they’re holding me accountable for everything on Twitter. Please rescue me from here.” Jafari can be then be heard crying after pleading with Nazarahari. She sent the message via her personal Instagram account on August 21.

“From her voice it’s clear that Nooshin is under intense pressure because of the serious charges she faces,” Shiva Nazarahari told IranWire. The audio file says it all.”

Jafari’s statement indicates that authorities have also implicated that Nazarahari, who is currently studying outside Iran, had links to the Yar-e Dabestani account. “Thanks to God, so far there has been no trouble for my family. I hope it will stay that way,” Nazarahari said.

Nooshin Jafari was arrested on August 7, 2019, and four days later, the news was published on Twitter by “security accounts” — the term Iranians on social media use to refer to fake profiles set up by Iran's security establishment and intelligence agents, which they use to frame activists and independent journalists. 

Shortly after this, Iranian state media also reported the arrest, referring to Jafari as the administrator for the Yar-e Dabestani Twitter account, which Iranian authorities have described as “subversive” and “blasphemous.” They say Jafari has tried to undermine the Islamic Republic, accuse her of insulting the Prophet Muhammad and "insulting the sacred" and have advocated that the photographer receives the maximum punishment. A judiciary spokesman confirmed the charges against her. 


No Links to “Blasphemous” Account

Nazarahari, a human rights activist and the co-founder, former director and spokesperson for the Committee of Human Rights Reporters, rejected the claim that Jafari had any links with the targeted Twitter account. “Both Nooshin’s and my activities were completely transparent and they know that neither of us has anything to do with this account,” she told IranWire. In addition to publishing the clip of Jafari sounding distressed and asking for help, she also released a clip of her reply to Jafari. “They know better than anyone else that this vulgar account has nothing to do with us. My activities were always transparent, and you can refer to the documents you have in my case after multiple detainments and interrogations. We always respected people’s beliefs and never used vulgar language.”

As a women’s rights activist and a member of the One Million Signatures Campaign, which seeks to change Iran's discriminatory laws against women, Nazarahari has also been targeted and persecuted by the Iranian authorities. She was arrested following the disputed 2009 presidential election as she was leaving work and charged with hirabah [unlawful warfare], conspiracy against national security, “disturbing public peace," and “propaganda against the regime.”

Jafari, who was working as a cultural reporter for a reformist newspaper at the time, was also arrested in 2009.

Nazarahari also said that she wasn't even familiar with the particular account the authorities have taken against until Jafari was arrested, and that although she has been on Twitter since 2011, she has only posted between 300 and 400 tweets in that time. “I’ve been more active since I left the country and that’s because I wanted to stay in the loop. I follow a very limited group of people who has nothing in common with that account.”

Speaking about Nooshin Jafari, Nazarahari told IranWire: “Since more than a decade ago, Nooshin pursued her interest, photography, and got very good at it and became successful. During these years she made an impressive resume for herself and won many awards.” She says Jafari has “a clear record” and there is no evidence that she has any links with Yar-e Dabestani, the Twitter handle the authorities are targeting. 

She added that intelligence authorities may have linked Jafari to the Yar-e Dabestani feed because she once wrote a blog with the same name, though it has long been defunct. “Nooshin wrote that blog 15 years ago,” Nazarahari said. “‘School mate’” is not a unique name and especially in Iran, there is a pop culture around it — it’s the name of an inspiring and very famous resistance song. If you Google ‘Yar-e Dabestani’ you can find dozens of blogs and articles with this name. So this fact alone rejects the idea of any connection between Nooshin and this account.” Nazarahari said.

State media has ignored both these comments and denials from Jafari’s other friends and family members, and Iranian authorities continue to pursue the case. Speaking at a press conference, judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili confirmed the charges against her. Responding to journalists’ questions, he said: “This person is being prosecuted not because of her career in journalism but because of her insults to holy figures and Imam Hussain, as well as the crime of ‘propaganda against the regime.’” 

On August 26, Jafari’s sister Shahrzad Jafari tweeted: “After publishing a video of Nooshin crying and begging for help, the prosecutor not only ignored my mom’s questions, but they even prevented her from entering the prosecutor’s office.”


Innocent Until Proven Guilty — But not in Iran

Nazarahari says the case against Jafari is “absolutely illegal.” According to her, Jafari was informed of the charges against her during interrogations. “It's not a conviction until it has been reviewed in a court of law. According to the legal principles, everyone is innocent until proven guilty, therefore all the fabrications that were publicly made against her are illegal.” She added that by law Jafari could even sue the judiciary and its spokesman for the way they have handled her case. “But unfortunately, that will never happen.”

After the publication of the audio file on August 25, Nazarahari and Jafari’s friends and supporters believed it was best to disable her social media accounts. “It was clear that all Nooshin’s social media accounts were compromised and were being run by people other than her,” Jafari said. “Our friends did some follow-ups with social media companies and shut down all her accounts.” The appeal for help, however, has been taken seriously.

Nazarahari is continuing to raise awareness about Jafari’s case online. “Nooshin’s voice is like an arrow that goes deeper into my heart day by day and has shattered my body and soul," she wrote on Instagram. "They treated my family and put me in the middle of something that has nothing to do with me. But we should document all of this. Maybe someday we will have proof for history that people of this nation have been pursuing a 'House of Justice' for more than a century, but justice is being sacrificed every day in this country for security and political games. Nooshin Jafari is innocent. I’m innocent and I think they know this better than we do.”

“In my opinion, everything done in her case is irregular and illegal,” Shiva Nazarahari told IranWire. “But I hope it will be resolved sooner than later and she’ll be released.”




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