Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged Iranian authorities to drop the charges against three women journalists who are being prosecuted for their reporting and writing on social media, and to put an end to the ongoing “harassment, prosecution, and punishment” of those exercising their rights to free speech.
Saeideh Shafie, Mehrnoush Zarei and Nasim Sultan Beigi went on trial on July 3 before Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court on “propaganda” and “national security” charges. Each of these charges carries a sentence of up to five years in prison.
“Iran’s judiciary has once again begun summoning and harassing journalists and human rights defenders, punishing anyone who refuses to remain silent,” Tara Sepehri Far, senior Iran researcher at the New York-based HRW, said in a statement. “The authorities have been relentless in prosecuting and punishing anyone reporting on the social issues and grievances that were central to the protests over the last months.”
Shafie, an economic journalist who had worked with several Iranian newspapers, was arrested in Tehran February and was transferred to Evin prison. She was released in March upon posting bail of 500 million tomans ($12,150).
The charges against her relate to several articles she wrote on topics such as rising poverty and the government's management of energy subsidies and public resources.
Zarei, who reports on health care and social issues for various Iranian outlets, was arrested in Tehran in January and was also transferred to Evin prison and released on bail in February.
The journalist was charged over her articles on reproductive laws and the state of Iran’s national parks.
Sultan Beigi, who is also a women's rights activist, was arrested at Tehran's Khomeini International Airport in January as she attempted to leave Iran. The authorities transferred her to Evin prison before releasing her on a 1 billion Tomans ($24,350) bail in February.
Her charges are based on her collaboration with domestic and foreign media outlets. She previously worked as a journalist with several Iranian publications.
According to HRW, the Islamic Republic “has a long history of using vaguely defined national security charges against protesters, dissidents, and journalists in trials that fall grossly short of international standards.”
“The international community should keep cases of journalists and human rights defenders at the center of its engagement with Iran,” Sepehri Far said. “States should be demanding that Iran drop these and other ridiculous charges that authorities have brought against journalists.”
Last year, Iranians took to the streets across the country for months to call for fundamental economic, social and political changes in the country. The women-led protest movement was sparked by the September death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of “morality police.”
The authorities cracked down on the protests with excessive and lethal force, killing more than 520 people and unlawfully detaining over 19,000, including dozens of journalists, activists say. Following biased trials, the judiciary has handed down stiff sentences, including the death penalty, to protesters.