Iranian Society under Crackdown

Iranian students protest at the University of Tehran during a demonstration driven by anger over economic problems, in the capital Tehran on December 30, 2017.
Iranian students protest at the University of Tehran during a demonstration driven by anger over economic problems, in the capital Tehran on December 30, 2017. © 2017 Getty Images

In September 2022, Iranians took to the streets to protest the death of a 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian woman in the custody of the abusive “morality police,” as well as the autocratic government’s long track record of repression and impunity. The protest movement’s leading slogan of “woman, life, freedom” connects Iranians’ struggles for social and political freedoms across generations against an unaccountable and deeply repressive state. The authorities’ brutal repression of popular demands for fundamental change has included lethal and excessive force against protesters, arbitrary arrests of activists, journalists, and rights defenders, the torture and sexual assault of detainees, and executions of people after sham trials. Human Rights Watch’s Iran blog highlights the government’s vicious crackdown and civil society activists’ attempts to confront this oppression and achieve societal demands for fundamental improvements in human rights.

Journalists Niloofar Hamedi and Elaheh Mohammadi’s Trial before Revolutionary Court

Niloofar Hamedi (left) and Elaheh Mohammadi (right).  © Wikimedia Commons

After more than seven months of pretrial detention, Niloofar Hamedi and Elaheh Mohammadi, two journalists from the Shargh and Ham-Mihan Iranian newspapers, have appeared in front of a revolutionary court trial for their journalist activities.

The two journalists were among the first journalists who reported on Mahsa (Jina) Amini’s death in custody of the morality police in September 2022, which sparked nationwide anti-government protests demanding fundamental change. Authorities have charged the journalists with  “collaborating with the hostile American government,” “colluding against national security,” and “engaging in propaganda activity against the regime.” The two women denied the charges and insisted that they were doing their jobs as journalists.

The first session of the Elaheh Mohammadi trial was on Monday, May 29, 2023. It was a closed trial session at Branch 15 of the revolutionary court, chaired by Abulghasem Salavati, who has a long track record of overseeing unfair trials and has been sanctioned by US authorities for violating Iranians’ free speech rights. Ham Mihan newspaper reported that Elaheh Mohammadi’s lawyers, including Shahab Mirlohi, were not allowed to speak during the session.

Mohamad Hosein Ajorloo, Hamedi’s husband, also said that her trial was held on Tuesday, May 30, at the same revolutionary court branch. He posted on his Instagram account that family members were not allowed to attend the court session, and Hamedi’s lawyers did not get a chance to present their defense.

The continuation of the trials of both cases was postponed to the next sessions, the date of which is not yet known.

Authorities Jail, Fine, and Suspend University Students for Peaceful Dissent

Iranian students protest at the University of Tehran during a demonstration driven by anger over economic problems, in the capital Tehran on December 30, 2017. © 2017 Getty Images

Iranian authorities recently have imposed jail sentences, fined, and suspended university students for their peaceful dissent, as well as judicially ordered some students into internal exile.

According to Harraswatch, in the last month, at least 35 students at the Alzahra University have been suspended from their studies for one to two semesters due to allegedly violating Iran’s abusive mandatory hijab laws and have been banned from the dormitories until the end of their studies. Out of this number, the sentences against seven of the students were implemented, with five students immediately expelled from the dormitory. Alzahra University also recently suspended one of its art students, Sepideh Rashnu, for two semesters for refusing to wear the mandatory veil.

After the March 7 protests in Tabriz University of Medical Sciences in protest of suspected serial poisonings of schoolgirls, at least 40 students have faced punishments from the Central Disciplinary Council of the Ministry of Health., including “banishment.”

According to the United Students Organization, among the students banned from education for two to four semesters and exiled to the cities of Urmia, Kashan, Ardabil, Ahvaz and Semnan are: Elaha Ashrafpour, Mirmehdi Mousaviyan, Mohammad Amin Sultanzadeh, Soheila Sepideh Dam, and Ali Parvin.

On May 13, Shargh daily, after interviewing some students of Allameh University, stated that in addition to issuing “illegal orders” and not respecting students’ rights to be informed of new restrictions, the university administration has directly filed cases against three students with the Evin Prison prosecutor's office.

Seventy Lawyers Summoned to Evin Prison Prosecutor’s Office in the Past Two Weeks

Exterior view of Evin prison. © Wikipedia

Mohammad Shivaei, the secretary of the Iran Central Bar Association's support commission, said in an interview with Vokalapress that since May 8, the Evin prosecutor’s office has summoned approximately seventy lawyers to prosecutor’s office in Tehran. According to Shivaei’s interview, Iranian authorities have not brought charges against the lawyers.

Samin Cheraghi, Hassan Yunsi, Ali Mojtahedzadeh, Ali Sharifzadeh, Abolfazl Hamzah, Mohammad Ali Kamfirouzi, Saeed Sheikh, Abuzar Nasrallahi, Sara Hamzezadeh, Mitra Izadifar, Marjan Esfahanian, and Amirhossein Ghafarian are part of the group of lawyers who have been summoned.

It appears that these lawyers were targeted for their work in defending the rights of protestors. Ali Mojtahedzadeh, one of the summoned lawyers, tweeted that those lawyers summoned were active on representing cases of detained protesters or publishing comments critical of the government on social media. Mojtahedzadeh also mentioned in an interview with Etemad online that some of the recently summoned lawyers still have previous government legal cases against them pending, many of whom have had their mobile phones confiscated by the government without any indication of when they will be returned.

Violent Arrest of Teachers, Activists during Visit with Mohammad Habibi's Family

Mohammad Habibi and his wife at a protest against schools' privatization in Iran. © n.d. Wikipedia

On April 28, Iran’s security forces raided the house of Mohammad Habibi, the imprisoned spokesman of the Tehran Teachers’ Union, and arrested nine activists visiting his family.

Reihane Ansarinejad, Anisha Asdalahi, Sarvnaz Ahmadi, Hassan Ebrahimi, Hirad Pirbadaghi, Jale Rohzad, Kamiyar Fakour, Asal Mohammadi, and Oldoz Hashemi were among those arrested and transferred to Evin prison. Most of these activists have previously been wrongfully imprisoned. While Reihane Ansarinejad, Oldoz Hashemi, Jale Rohzad, Hirad Pirbadaghi, and Asal Mohammadi were released on bail, Radio Zamaneh reported that Fakour and Ahmadi will have to serve the prison sentence they had received for their peaceful activism. Branch 26 of Tehran’s appeal court had sentenced the couple to 8-months and 3.5 years in prison respectively.

The Coordinating Council of Iranian Teachers’ Trade Associations reported that during the raid, one of the female teachers suffered a heart attack and was admitted to the hospital. Security forces also arrested Khadija Pakzamir, Habibi’s wife, but they released her after a few hours.

Mohammad Habibi, a human rights defender and teachers’ union spokesperson, was previously arrested on April 5, 2023, by Iranian intelligence authorities. Over the past four years, labor protests have been on the rise in Iran in response to declining living standards, delayed wages, and decreased insurance support. Iran’s labor law does not recognize the right to organize labor unions independent of government-sanctioned groups such as the Islamic Labor Council.

Multiple Unfounded Charges Against Detained Journalists in Iran

Niloofar Hamedi (left) and Elaheh Mohammadi (right).  © Wikimedia Commons

Iran’s judiciary has announced several unfounded charges against Niloofar Hamedi and Elaheh Mohammadi, journalists from the Shargh and Ham-Mihan Iranian newspapers respectively who have spent more than seven months in detention. Both women were arrested after publishing details on 22-year-old Mahsa Jina Amini’s death in custody on September 16, 2022.

On April 26, 2023, Masoud Setayshi, the judiciary spokesman, said that Hamedi and Mohammadi were accused of “collaborating with the hostile American government,” “colluding against national security,” and “engaging in propaganda activity against the regime.” He stated that their indictment was issued on April 17, 2023, and their cases were referred to Branch 15 of Tehran’s revolutionary court.

Hamedi, the Shargh reporter, was the first journalist to publish an image of Mahsa Jina Amini in the hospital. Security forces arrested Hamedi on September 22 in Tehran. Mohammadi, the Ham-Mihan reporter, traveled to Saqqez to report on Mahsa Jina Amini’s funeral. She was arrested on September 29.

Both women were transferred to Qarchak prison in Varamin on December 18, 2022.

Arrest of Prominent Activists Following Online Opposition Conference

Dialogue to Save Iran conference's poster. © 2023 Kaleme

Iranian intelligence agents have arrested three prominent dissidents following their involvement with a two-day online opposition conference. The April 21 and 22 conference, titled “Dialogue to Save Iran” and hosted on the social media platform Clubhouse, featured dozens of prominent activists based in Iran and the diaspora, including several imprisoned activists in Iran. During the conference that was named after the title of a letter published by Mirhossein Mousavi, a former Prime Minister and a candidate in the 2009 presidential elections who has been under house arrest since 2011, the participants spoke about the need for a national referendum and a democratic transition from Iran’s current autocratic rulers.

Ahead of the conference, on April 20, authorities arrested Keyvan Samimi, a 74-year-old veteran journalist who was among the speakers for the conference. Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) channel aired the news of Samimi’s arrests and accused him associating with the banned Mojahedin-e Khalq group, without any evidence. Samimi had been released from prison on January 26 after serving a two-year sentence he had received for his peaceful activism.

On April 25 and April 26, authorities arrested Seyed Alireza Behesti Shirazi, an advisor to Mousavi, and Abdollah Momeni, a political activist, who both spoke at the conference. Authorities also searched the house of another Mousavi advisor, Ghorban Behzadian Nejad, and summoned him to appear at the prosecutor’s office. Behesti Sherazi, Momeni, and Behzadian Nejad were all imprisoned in the aftermath of the 2009 presidential elections.

On April 26, his daughter Adeleh Samimi tweeted that the family is not aware of his condition or whereabouts.

New Wave of Arrests on Women Activists and Journalists in Iran

Over six months since the “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement erupted in Iran, the government’s crackdown on women’s fundamental rights in Iran continues. In the last ten days alone, authorities have arrested three activists and journalists and summoned two more to court.

On April 10, authorities arrested journalist and Kurdish women's rights activist Jina Modares Gorji in Sanandaj. This is the second time in recent months that she has been arrested. Security forces violently arrested Modares Gorj on September 21, 2022. She was released on bail on October 30. In March 2023, she posted on her Instagram account that she was accused of "acting against national security" by forming an “illegal group” and being a member of it.

On Saturday, April 8, agents from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Intelligence Organization arrested Zainab Zaman, a feminist activist, after she appeared in their office in Tehran for an interrogation. Security forces also searched her house. She was released on bail on April 15 from Evin prison.

Fariba Zandkarimi was arrested on Wednesday, April 5, 2023, after being summoned to the Intelligence Department of Sanandaj. After her arrest, security forces searched her house and confiscated some of her personal belongings, and took some with them.

Labor activist Anisha Asadollahi and journalist Maryam Vahidian were summoned to Branch 26 of the Tehran Revolution Court for their trials on April 16 and 18.

Mohammad Habibi, Teacher’s Union Spokesperson, Beaten and Arbitrarily Detained

Mohammad Habibi and his wife at a protest against schools' privatization in Iran. © n.d. Wikipedia

On April 5, Iranian intelligence authorities arrested Mohammad Habibi, a human rights defender and spokesperson of the Iranian Teachers' Trade Association (ITTA). His wife, Khadijeh Pakzamir, tweeted that four officers from the Ministry of Intelligence apprehended Habibi at school with an arrest warrant and brought him to their house to search their residence while insulting both of them. When security forces transferred him to Evin prison, they beat him in the car.  He remains in detention.

Mohammad Habibi was previously arrested by security forces in Tehran on April 30, 2022, and was transferred to Evin prison.

In November 2022, the 26th branch of the Tehran Revolutionary Court sentenced Habibi to a total of four years and seven months in prison, in addition to a two-year ban from activities and membership in groups and being prohibited from leaving the country, on charges of unlawful assembly, including “propaganda against the regime.”

He was granted amnesty and released from prison on February 8, 2023, after 10 months’ of imprisonment.

Iranian authorities have long targeted prominent members of teachers’ associations. The authorities have imprisoned Ismael Abdi, the secretary general of ITTA, since 2015. Over the past four years, labor protests have been on the rise in Iran in response to declining living standards, delayed wages, and decreased insurance support. Iran’s labor law does not recognize the right to organize labor unions independent of government-sanctioned groups such as the Islamic Labor Council.

Journalist Kasra Nouri Remains Imprisoned

Kasra Nouri. © 2023 Private

Despite a recent government amnesty announcement, Iranian journalist and political activist Kasra Nouri, 32, remains imprisoned. His lawyer, Farshid Yadollahi, told the Shargh Daily paper that Nouri was granted amnesty in one legal case, while his new case is still with the Shiraz Prosecutor’s Office. In August 2022, Nouri was charged with “assembly and collusion against national security” for an unpublished statement, which he wrote with other activists such as Leila Hossein Zadeh, and it is this case that is still pending and preventing his release.

Authorities arrested Nouri in February 2018 when dozens of Dervish community members gathered on Golestan-e Haftom street in the Pasdaran neighborhood in north Tehran to protect the residence of their spiritual leader, Noor Ali Tabandeh, whom they feared intelligence agencies planned to arrest. On February 19 and 20, 2018, authorities reportedly attacked the protestors, severely injuring dozens. Law enforcement agents also died in the clashes, including three who were struck by a bus.

In July 2018, branch 26 of Tehran’s revolutionary court sentenced Nouri to 12 years in prison, 74 lashes, two years in exile, two years of deprived social rights, and a two-year travel ban on the charges of “assembly and collusion against national security,” “disrupting public order,” “rebelling against officers on duty,” and “propaganda against the state.” Under article 134 of Iran’s criminal procedure law, Nouri had to serve seven years and six months. He has been held in Adel Abad Prison in Shiraz, which is hundreds of kilometers away from his family’s hometown in Tehran.

Authorities previously arrested and imprisoned Nouri several times, as well as detaining other family members, including his mother Shokoufeh Yadollahi and his brothers Amir Nouri and Pooria Nouri. According to BBC, Shokoufeh Yadollahi, Amir Nouri, and Pooria Nouri were physically and psychologically tortured. Following the 2018 Golestan-e Haftom street incident, revolutionary courts sentenced at least 208 members of the Dervish religious minority to prison terms and other punishments in unfair trials that violated their basic rights.

Nouri is a student at the University of Tehran and was the CEO of “majzooban-e-noor” website, which covers news about the Dervish religious community.

Kurdish Activist Zeynab Jalalian starts her 16th year in Iran’s Prisons

Zeynab Jalalian. © 2023 Private

March 2023 will mark 16 years of imprisonment for Iranian-Kurdish political activist Zeynab Jalalian. Jalalian, 40 years old, is the only female political activist in Iran with a lifetime sentence. Over the past 16 years, the authorities have subjected her to physical and psychological torture, and denied her access to medical care.

Iranian authorities arrested Jalalian in March 2008 for her social and political activities when she was a member of The Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK). After being arrested, she was transferred to the unofficial detention center of the Kermanshah Intelligence Department, located in Naft Square, and spent more than three months in solitary confinement. During this period, she was subjected to severe torture including threats of rape, and she was denied the right to have contacts and visits from her family and lawyer.

In 2009, in a summary trial in which her lawyer was not even informed, a revolutionary court judge sentenced Jalalian to death on charges of “waging war against God” (moharebeh). In December 2011, her death sentence was changed to life imprisonment. In the last 16 years, authorities transferred her to several prisons across Iran: Kermanshah, Evin, Khoy, Gharchak, Kerman, and Yazd detention facilities.

During her imprisonment, Jalalian has suffered from illnesses, including oral candidiasis, pterygium of the eye, poor vision, tooth infection, kidney and digestive problems, and Covid-19. Despite her need for medical treatment outside the prison, prison officials have heavily restricted her transfer to hospitals, and used this to pressure her to confess to further charges. For the few times that they transferred her to a hospital outside the prison, they returned her to prison against the doctor’s recommendation of hospitalizing her.

As authorities have failed to show any evidence of Jalalian’s involvement in any violent act and she was only detained for her social and political activities for the rights of Kurdish women, her imprisonment is arbitrary and is a serious violation of her fundamental rights. Zeynab Jalalian should be released immediately and unconditionally.