Police in Iran have detained dozens of journalists and celebrities who are supporting a national protest connected to the death of a young woman there.
This week, the U.S.-based advocacy group Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said at least 28 reporters had been arrested by police over their coverage of the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini and the protests that followed.
Amini was detained by police earlier this month on allegations that she violated Iran’s strict dress code. According to reports, police accused Amini of improperly wearing her hijab, a head covering. Iran has required all women in the country to wear a hijab since the late 1970s; in 1995, the law was amended to include a potential jail sentence of up to 60 days for women who violate the dress code.
Family members say Amini was tortured by police prior to her death, an accusation that officials in Iran have denied. But the incident has sparked a wave of protests across the country, one that has been widely covered by domestic and foreign journalists and supported by filmmakers, athletes and celebrities.
On Thursday, police arrested newspaper reporter Elahe Mohammadi during a raid on her home, according to her lawyer. Mohammadi had covered Amini’s funeral for Hammihan, a daily news publication in Iran. Another journalist, Niloufar Hamedi, was also arrested that day; Hamedi is credited with visiting Amini in the hospital and bringing international attention to her arrest and subsequent death.
Other journalists arrested in connection with the protests include photojournalist Yalda Moaiery, political commentator Iman Behpasand, political reporters Alireza Khoshbakht and Zahra Tohidi and freelance reporter Elmira Bahmani. They are among at least 28 known reporters, photographers, commentators and journalists currently held in police custody. The actual number of detained journalists may be higher than reported.
“Iranian authorities must immediately release all journalists arrested because of their coverage of Mahsa Amini’s death and the protests that have followed,” Sherif Mansour, the coordinator of the CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa group, said in a statement. “Iranian security forces must drop their repressive measures against the journalists telling this critical story and restore the internet access that is vital to keep the public informed.”
Local government officials have blamed “terrorists” and others purportedly working with “anti-Iran” groups for sparking the protests over Amini’s death.
“In the past days, the forces maintaining the country’s order and security have faced a diversity of cult-like groups, agents of foreign spy agencies as well as direct involvement of the American and British governments and their Saudi followers; and fooled agents of rioters on the streets,” the country’s intelligence ministry said in a statement on Friday. The spokesperson said around 50 people had been arrested for “propagating fake news,” among other crimes. It was not clear if the 28 journalists known by advocacy groups were included in that count.
The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), an Indiana-based media advocacy group, urged the Iranian government to immediately release the journalists who are being held in connection with their coverage of the protests and Amini’s death.
“Journalists in Iran must be allowed to report freely and do their job to keep people around the world informed of what’s happening in Iran,” a spokesperson for the SPJ said on Friday .”All journalists who have been arrested must be released without charges, their equipment should be returned and they should not face further persecution.”