A documentary filmmaker and a photographer have been punished for highlighting social issues in Iran and the Middle East, including violence against women in Iran and Iranian authorities’ failure to address it.
On October 29, a day before the eight-year anniversary of the arrest of blogger and activist Sattar Beheshti, a photographer and documentary filmmaker named Negar Masoudi was arrested by security forces. Four days after her arrest, the reason for her detention and her whereabouts are still unknown. Reports from Iran say that during her arrest, agents searched her father's house and confiscated some of her personal belongings.
Eight years ago, on October 30, 2012, Sattar Beheshti, a blogger and Facebook activist, was arrested by Iran’s cyber police, known by its Persian acronym FATA. Four days later, he was dead after being tortured.
After his death, his mother and sister were threatened, instructed to remain silent and to not speak to the media. After being pressured by authorities, Beheshti’s lawyer, Giti Pourfazel, announced that she was retiring from the legal profession.
Since then, every year in late October and early November, human rights activists have visited Gohar Eshghi, Sattar Beheshti’s mother.
This year, high profile activist Narges Mohammadi, who was released from prison on October 8, was one of them. Mohammadi’s husband Taghi Rahmani posted her experiences on Twitter for her: "I went to see her mother at midnight. It was the anniversary of Sattar's arrest. She had sprinkled the alley with water, adorned the walkway with red flowers, and stayed awake until dawn. I told his mother to rest assured that they will be held accountable.”
But Beheshti’s death under torture did not lead to change: not to the way arrests are conducted, or to how people detained for activism or reporting on sensitive issues are treated. In fact, over the last eight years, hundreds of activists have been summoned and detained across the country simply for expressing their opinions — by the judiciary, FATA, the Ministry of Intelligence and the Revolutionary Guards. They have been tortured and given prison sentences, many of them lengthy.
Then, on October 29, it happened again.
Negar Masoudi, 35, has made several documentaries, and has presented her photography in both solo exhibitions and group exhibitions in Tehran, Isfahan, and Vancouver.
Her name became familiar to Iranians after she held an exhibition in July 2018 featuring photographs of Marzieh Ebrahimi, who was one of several women to be targeted in acid attacks in Isfahan in 2014. The exhibition, entitled ”Your Fate was Decided by an Idol That Others Worshiped," was well received by both the public and artists.
Now, like so many others who report on brutality in Iran, Masoud is behind bars.
Ehsan Bodaghi, a journalist whose house was searched by Revolutionary Guards agents in February 2020, was sarcastic in his response to Masoudi’s arrest, posting on Twitter: "Finally after six years, a person is arrested in relation to the Isfahan serial acid attacks. Of course, let me add that the arrested person was not an #acid attacker, but #Negar_Masoudi a photographer and documentary filmmaker who had organized an exhibition about acid attacks against women in Isfahan.”
The Isfahan Acid Attacks
In October 2014, several girls and women were attacked in Isfahan. The assailants sprayed or threw acid at them, often targeting their faces, and the attacks took place after several religious figures in the city had called for those wearing “bad hijab” — not in accordance with Iranian religious conservatives' criteria of how they should be worn — to be dealt with appropriately. The perpetrators, who carried out the attacks on motorcycles, were never identified.
In July 2018, a lawyer defending the victims announced that, after almost four years, the case was closed, adding that no one had been arrested or faced trial for the crimes. Although Iran’s law enforcement agents and judicial system had failed to identify and arrest the perpetrators over a four-year period, they did manage to arrest citizens campaigning for action, and who tried to raise awareness about what had happened. Mahdieh Golrou was arrested in 2014 during protests outside parliament in Baharestan Square, one of many who demonstrated against the acid attacks on women and Iranian politicians’ silence on the matter.
She was released on bail in January 2015. A number of other citizens were also arrested and threatened with punishment if they did not remain silent.
Prison Sentence for Making Films
After being held in prison since March 2020 without being charged, writer, director and producer Maryam Ebrahimvand has now been given a prison sentence of 10 years and six months for two films, one about rape and another about the Hajj stampede tragedy of 2015. Her lawyer was informed of the sentence on October 31, and the media reported it on November 1.
Branch 1059 of the State Employees' Court issued the sentence. In its sentencing, the court said the judiciary had been handed down a harsh sentence because it was “displeased” by Ebrahimvand’s films, which it described as “vulgar.”
Ebrahimvand was given a seven-year sentence for the films Girls' Boarding House, which focuses on the rape of girls in Iran, and September 24, which takes as it subject the 2015 Hajj stampede in the Mina neighborhood of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, in which at least 717 died. A source close to Ebrahimvand told the Human Rights News Agency (HRANA) that authorities objected to a scene in the film in which a pilgrim who later dies attends a marriage proposal ceremony, which the court said tarnished the reputation of martyrs. The film, the source said, had not yet been released. Both films had been licensed by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance.
Ebrahimvand was also charged with "insulting the president" and "spreading lies against the Revolutionary Guards with the intention of disturbing public opinion," for which she was sentenced to one year and two years in prison respectively. According to the lawsuit, she also faced charges of publishing lies in connection with a post on Instagram in which she linked the behavior of the Revolutionary Guards to a rise in youth emigration.
Prior to her most recent arrest, Ebrahimvand was also arrested on July 22, 2018 and taken to Ward 2-A at Evin Prison, which is run by the Revolutionary Guards. She was released a month later on a 10-billion-toman [$340,000] bail. Her second arrest, on March 16, 2020, was in connection with the same charges, though she was given no notice that she was going to be taken back to prison.
Since March, Ebrahimvand has gone on hunger strike several times to protest against her continued detention without a verdict.