Saeed Shahrabi, the father of Shima Shahrabi, editor-in-chief of IranWire’s Persian-language website, was summoned to the Third Branch of Evin Prosecutor's Office on August 8 – as the Islamic Republic marked Journalist's Day.
Shahrabi was first summoned to an office of the Ministry of Intelligence in May, shortly after the arrest of his son, Sajjad Shahrabi, a radio host and announcer.
During that interrogation session, he was questioned about his daughter's journalistic work, IranWire’s website and the relationship between the two siblings. His cell phone was confiscated.
On August 8, he was asked questions about the contents of his cell phone and the messages he had exchanged with his daughter. He was later released.
Sajjad Shahrabi was arrested at his father's house on May 3 by agents from the Intelligence Ministry, and spent 37 days in Tehran’s Evin prison before being released on a bail of 1 billion tomans ($20,000).
For Iranians who still listen to the radio amidst a deluge of visual media, the voice of Sajjad Shahrabi might resonate familiarly.
Shahrabi remained active in domestic broadcasting until his arrest in the wake of nationwide protests sparked by the September 2022 death in police custody of Mahsa Amini.
His only "crime" was to be the brother of Shima Shahrabi.
Overall, more than 70 journalists have been illegally detained over the past months and others have been dismissed, censored or forced into exile.
Masoud Setayeshi, the spokesperson of the judicial system of the Islamic Republic, recently denied that Niloofar Hamedi and Elahe Mohammadi, two journalists who have been detained for nearly one year, are being prosecuted for having reported on Amini’s death.
Before her arrest, Hamedi captured an image of Amini’s parents embracing each other at a Tehran hospital while their daughter was in a coma, and shared the photo on Twitter. Mohammadi covered Amini’s funeral in her Kurdish hometown of Saqqez, where the widespread protests initially erupted.
The events surrounding Shahrabi's arrest and his release on bail show the mendacity of the judicial authorities.
The brother of another journalist working from abroad was arrested for the same reasons and placed in solitary confinement. He launched a hunger strike while in detention and was released after his assets were confiscated.
In its recent verdict against Sajjad Shahrabi, the court said that IranWire was the first media outlet to publish the news about Amini's death.
IranWire broke the news that the 22-year-old Amini had fallen into a coma while in detention. It also revealed Amini's identity and published details of her arrest in Tehran for allegedly wearing a headscarf improperly.
Prosecutor Haji Moradi and IranWire
Mahmoud Haji Moradi, the then-prosecutor of Branch Two of Evin Prosecutor's Office, played a pivotal role in Shahrabi's case.
Haji Moradi gained notoriety among political detainees, particularly during last year’s nationwide protests.
In an interview with IranWire, Sajjad Shahrabi recounted his first encounter with Haji Moradi, during which the prosecutor mentioned IranWire reporters Aida Qajar and Samaneh Ghadarkhan, its founder and editor-in-chief Maziar Bahari, and its technical director Nick Wolf.
"He inquired about my association with IranWire. He mentioned Aida Qajar's name and inquired about my familiarity with her. He raised queries about Samaneh Ghadarkhan and how she joined IranWire," he said.
"He said IranWire had reported on Mahsa Amini's death. He asked about Maziar Bahari and inquired about the duration of my sister's tenure as the editor of IranWire. He further probed Mr. Bahari's financial assets and his financial benefits in IranWire.”
"Then he said that Mr. Bahari's boss is an individual named Nick Wolf, an American-born individual. Subsequently, he persistently insinuated I had received funds from my sister and distributed them."
In the interview, Sajjad Shahrabi shed light on promises made by the prosecutor concerning his sister.
"Right from the beginning he said, 'Your sister erred in roping you into this.' He said, 'We'll communicate to her that she has made a misstep,' and he continued saying, 'Convey to your sister that we're prepared to furnish an official safeguarding letter, endorsed by the head of the judiciary, provided she severs all ties with IranWire. There's no need for her to be confined to Iran but she can freely travel back and forth.'"
As these promises did not go anywhere, threats began to loom.
The prosecutor, who was keenly aware of Sajjad Shahrabi's deep familial attachments, issued a stark warning that his entire family would be arrested if he refused to cooperate.
“We will transform this place into the Shahrabis' ward," he quoted the prosecutor as saying.
Accused of Sending Photos of Pizza Shop to his Sister
Amidst the litany of charges presented by Prosecutor Haji Moradi, other interrogators and Judge Mohammad Reza Amouzad during their first meeting with Sajjad Shahrabi, one accusation stood out: having sent photos of Davood's Pizza, the oldest pizza shop in Tehran, and Oodlajan neighborhood to his sister.
As a further example showing his alleged collaboration with IranWire, they also mentioned his response to a query from his sister regarding meat prices.
Two charges were levied against Sajjad Shahrabi: "collusion against security and engaging in propaganda.”
In its preliminary ruling, the court stipulated that the accused refuted all the accusations and sentenced him to 10 months in prison. He was also imposed a travel ban, barred from working for state radio and television and banned from any social media activity for a period of two years.
This disproportionate verdict was based solely on the sharing of a few images with his sister.
Sajjad Shahrabi’s belongings seized during the raid on his father’s house, two laptops and a mobile phone, were confiscated, along with money in foreign currency belonging to his father.
As part of the punishment for being Shima Shahrabi’s brother, an exorbitant bail of 1 billion tomans [$20,000] was set for his release.
Injustice and Empathy in Prison
Sajjad Shahrabi, who has never been a political activist, describes himself as a protesting citizen.
In the interview with IranWire, he recounted the injustices he witnesses while incarcerated in Evin prison’s Ward 209 and Ward 4.
He tells the story of an 18-year-old protester who was charged with "waging war against God," which can carry the death penalty, for allegedly murdering a member of the paramilitary Basij force.
After lawyers managed to prove he had nothing to do with the killing, a judge transferred the case to a specialized court for minors and the charge of "waging war against God" was lifted.
Amid countless governmental acts of injustice, empathy between the prisoners was a unique experience for Sajjad Shahrabi: "Upon entering the communal space of Ward 209, I had nothing but the clothes on my back and a single pair of pajamas; I was without any money. However, camaraderie became immediately apparent, as fellow inmates invited me, stressing that every newcomer was a guest of the collective.”
"Upon my transfer to Evin’s General Ward, this empathy took on another dimension. There, I encountered individuals like Siamak Namazi and Emad Sharghi, and I forged connections with an extraordinary and insightful sociologist, as well as a human rights lawyer,” he added.
"This experience was unique, as it showcased people with diverse backgrounds coexisting despite differing viewpoints and myriad disparities. The prevailing sentiment was a resolute belief that mutual acceptance should transcend personal differences."
“I Shall Never Forgive Him”
During the interview, Sajjad Shahrabi revealed the profound toll exacted upon him and his family during his imprisonment.
Thinking about his ailing father who visited the Evin Prosecutor's Office every day in search of information concerning his son or the interrogators’ use of his love and devotion for his family as a means of coercion and duress, Sajjad Shahrabi realized that his jailers tried to exploit his vulnerabilities.
Sajjad Shahrabi ended his testimony with a tremor of anger in his voice. With his gaze fixed on a point distant from the camera, he said: "The interrogator, a certain Majid, approached and admonished, 'Your father has come. Advise him not to visit the prosecutor's office. He was here just yesterday, visibly out of breath. Should anything befall him, the responsibility will rest upon you!'...I shall never forgive him."