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Journalists Nilufar Hamedi (left) and Elaheh Mohammadi (right): Sentenced to long prison terms

Photo: Mehrdad Aladin / dpa

In Iran, two journalists have been sentenced to long prison terms for reporting on the death of Jina Mahsa Amini. A Revolutionary Court in Tehran sentenced Nilufar Hamedi to seven years in prison and Elaheh Mohammadi to six years, the Misan justice portal announced on Sunday. Both journalists were accused of collaborating with the U.S. and convicted of violating national security. The verdicts can be appealed.

In addition to the prison sentences, the court imposed a two-year ban on the women from organizing in groups, being active on social media or pursuing their work as journalists. Hamedi and Mohammadi have been imprisoned for more than a year, and this time is considered to have already been served. The verdict was published on Hamedi's birthday, and she turned 31 on Sunday. The trial itself took place behind closed doors.

In the fall of 2022, the two journalists were among the first to report on the death of Iranian Kurdish woman Jina Mahsa Amini. Morality guards had forcibly arrested the young woman for an allegedly ill-fitting headscarf, Amini fell into a coma and died just a few days later, on September 16, 2022.

At the time of her death, Hamedi was researching in the hospital as a journalist for the newspaper »Shargh«. She posted a photo of the grieving parents that went around the world. Just six days after Amini's death, security forces ransacked the journalist's home and arrested her.

Mohammadi was taken into custody a week later. She had traveled to the funeral in Amini's Kurdish hometown of Saghes for her employer »Hammihan«, where crowds of people flocked.

Amini's death was followed by a nationwide wave of outrage and bewilderment. Many families said: This could have happened to my daughter. The protests spread like wildfire, unleashing the anger of the younger generation. The uprisings plunged Iran's political and clerical leadership into its worst crisis in decades.

Trial before the notorious Revolutionary Court

The trial of the journalists took place before a notorious Revolutionary Court in Tehran, whose presiding judge, Abolghassem Salawati, is known for particularly harsh sentences. The judge has been subject to sanctions by the EU for more than ten years. As part of the latest wave of protests, he handed down several death sentences against demonstrators.

On the last day of the trial, defendant Mohammadi said in her defense, "I have never had any connection with a foreign government and I am proud to have stayed with the people to be their voice." She accused the Iranian judiciary of trying to make an example of both journalists.

The case received a lot of international attention. While Hamedi and Mohammadi were in prison, Unesco awarded the women the UN Cultural Organization's Press Freedom Prize in absentia for their reporting at the beginning of May. "More than ever, it is important to pay tribute to all women journalists who are prevented from carrying out their work," said Unesco Director-General Audrey Azoulay in a statement.