Iran adds 15 months prison time for Nobel winner Narges Mohammadi

Iran extends Nobel Peace Prize recipient Narges Mohammadi's prison sentence by 15 months, while journalists Niloufar Hamedi and Elaheh Mohammadi, recently released on bail, face new charges over their coverage of Mahsa Amini's death, sparking fresh concerns about human rights in the country.

FILE PHOTO: The Iranian flag flutters in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) organisation's headquarters in Vienna, Austria, June 5, 2023. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo

The Iranian government has extended the prison sentence of Narges Mohammadi, a human rights activist and recipient of the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize, by an additional 15 months, as reported by her family on Monday.

This development follows the release, on bail pending appeal, of journalists Niloufar Hamedi and Elaheh Mohammadi, as announced by state media. The journalists were imprisoned for their reporting on the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who died in the custody of Iran’s morality police in September 2022, sparking nationwide protests against the country’s authoritarian clerical rule. On Monday, prosecutors filed a new complaint against both journalists, accusing them of violating the hijab law, which mandates women to cover their hair and wear loose, concealing clothing. This law was the initial cause of Mahsa Amini’s arrest.

Niloufar Hamedi, 31, had covered Mahsa Amini’s story for the Iranian daily newspaper Shargh, reporting from the hospital where the young woman passed away. She was arrested shortly after the incident. Elaheh Mohammadi, who had covered Amini’s funeral for the newspaper Hammihan, was arrested a week later amid the widespread protests in Iran.

Both journalists faced charges of conspiring with foreign intelligence agencies to undermine national security, along with spreading propaganda. Following closed-door trials, they were sentenced in October, with Niloufar Hamedi receiving a 13-year prison term and Elaheh Mohammadi sentenced to 12 years.

Mohammadi, aged 51, has experienced frequent incarcerations over the past decade, facing charges of “spreading anti-state propaganda” as part of Iran’s sustained effort to suppress and penalize her activism. According to her family, a new trial took place on December 19 without her presence, resulting in her fifth conviction since 2021. In total, she has been sentenced to over 12 years in prison, 154 lashes, a four-month travel ban, and two years of exile. Despite enduring severe health problems, including a heart attack, her imprisonment has not deterred her from being one of the most vocal critics of Iran’s government.

Following a significant uprising, primarily led by women, triggered by the death of Mahsa Amini, Narges Mohammadi took action by organizing prison protests, writing opinion pieces, and leading weekly workshops for female inmates to educate them about their rights.

The death of Mahsa Amini triggered widespread outrage among Iranians already discontented with their government. The incident fueled months-long protests across Iran, with tens of thousands of people taking to the streets, including women who defiantly removed their headscarves and burned them in bonfires. This movement, known as the “Mahsa movement” in tribute to Ms. Amini, evolved into the most significant challenge to the legitimacy of Iran’s ruling clerics since 1979.

Iran’s government responded with a crackdown, forcefully suppressing the protests by early 2023, arresting nearly 20,000 people, and reportedly causing over 500 deaths, according to human rights organizations. At least seven detained protesters were later executed, and others continue to face the threat of the death penalty.

Despite attempts by the Iranian government to enforce the hijab law, particularly in larger cities, many women persist in defying the regulation by going without head coverings and wearing Western-style clothing in public. In response, the government has employed various measures, such as closing down businesses overlooking dress code violations and restricting services for non-compliant women in banks and government offices. In September, the Iranian Parliament passed a bill that heightened penalties for women who refused to adhere to the hijab, imposing significant fines and prison sentences for those found in violation.

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