Writer: Pauline Mortel
Translator: Talia Gaudé
Niloofar Hamedi, Elaheh Mohammadi, and Narges Mohammadi. These are the names of the three Iranian journalists and reporters that received the 2023 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize, acknowledging the “work of these three brave womenONU, (2023) La Journée mondiale de la liberté de la presse met l’accent sur la liberté d’expression en tant que moteur des droits de l’Homme. … Continue reading” that risked their freedom and their lives in order to denounce the violent treatment that women are facing in Iran. Considered as “threats” by the regimeTa, H. (2022) “The Amount of Violence is Astonishing”: Why Threats to Journalists are Increasing in Iran. Nieman Reports. … Continue reading, these three women are still imprisoned in the Evine prison when this article is being written, the first two for sharing pictures of Masha Amini in hospital on social media, assaulted by the morality police for letting a piece of her hair show out of her hijab in September 2022Daizey, M. G., (2022) Iran : Les femmes, « l’avant-garde de la Révolution » nationale. L’œil de la Maison des Journalistes. … Continue reading, and the third for her fight for women’s rights.
Behind these three names, are fifty-two others (as of the end of January 2023RSF, (2023) Iran : trois nouvelles femmes journalistes emprisonnées à Téhéran, soit 55 arrestations depuis le début des manifestations. … Continue reading), those of journalists, reporters, photojournalists, and activists for Iranian women’s rights that were arrested by the Mollah regime since the beginning of the protests in September 2022. These women were punished for exercising their job or for participating in protests considered as illegal by the Iranian regime. A number of them have been temporarily released on bail until the end of their judiciary procedure, but they could be threatened by the regime again at any given moment. The women journalists are among the first targets of the repressive Iranian regime, which attacks the values they represent and defend, through their participation in the demonstrations. These attacks against women journalists have increased in the context of the demonstrations that have shaken the country since the death of Masha Amini, a movement of great magnitude forming part in the global context of threats against women journalists in repressive States.
Because Iran is not the only repressive state in this situation. 78 women journalists were imprisoned in the world in 2022 by States such as China, Turkey, or Belarus, that are accelerating the repression by targeting women and constantly limiting their rightsRSF, (2022) Bilan 2022. https://rsf.org/sites/default/files/medias/file/2022/12/RSF_Bilan2022_FR.pdf. A number that is increasing and shows the growing threat to weigh on the freedom of the press and women’s rights. The attacks against women’s rights and the restriction of liberty-affecting women journalists are multiplying in repressive States where women are targeted on a daily basis, not only by discrimination but also by a growing oppression from the regimes that do not tolerate their freedoms. In Iran, “Women are more and more confronted to coercive measures from the State authoritiesONU, (2023) Iran : des experts dénoncent l’application répressive des lois sur le hijab. … Continue reading”, for instance the law on wearing the hijab in public is applied to girls from the age of 9, which is also the minimum age of penal responsibility for girls across the country. In what way does the rights of women and the freedom of the press, important indicators of a country’s democratic health, embody the preferred enemies of the repressive Iranian State?
The choice of violence against women journalists embodying values abhorred by the Mollah regime
The targeting of women journalists in Iran is accelerating as their presence is growing bigger within the Iranian society, which is a sign of the emancipation of women to which the regime is opposed. The repression against Iranian women journalists has intensified in 2011 with the nomination of Mohammad Hosseini at the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Orientation, that became an organ of censorship and repression of journalists, particularly women journalistsMoravvej, Z. (2021) Dodging Bullets: The Iranian Women Journalists Circumvent Censorship. Master’s dissertation Thesis in Middle East Studies, University of Oslo. … Continue reading. The demonstrations of September 2022 have ultimately marked a turning point in the attacks recorded against these women in the exercise of their duties. Underlining the courage of Iranian women journalists, Nazila Golestan, Iranian journalist and activist for women’s rights, explains that “Women are the pioneers of the ideal revolution for gender equality and have been in the front line for the transition from the theocracy to a secular democracy. They are not afraid of the risk of arrest, torture and even death, they report the news immediatelyRSF, (2022) Iran : un nombre sans précédent de femmes journalistes derrière les barreaux. … Continue reading”.
Since the beginning of the demonstrations, the Mollah regime based itself on a systematic repression of the freedom of the press and dissident voices, qualified as “hostile elements” by the regimeRemarks made by the ultra-conservative Ebrahim Raïssi, when talking about the protestors. In : Golshiri, G. (2023) En Iran, la militante des droits humains Narges Mohammadi dénonce les abus sexuels … Continue reading. This repression is based on Article 24 of the Constitution of the regime, which states that “the publications and the press are free to expose their ideas, unless they are violating the principles of Islam and public rights”, leaving a large space of interpretation for justice to judge the acts that could be considered as such.
The freedom of the Iranian press is thus muzzled, and the restrictions imposed to journalists in their will to inform are multiplying: access to the Internet was strongly restricted by the regime in November 2019, and again in September 2022, limiting connections between the Iranian network and the outside world, in order to avoid an “inappropriate use” of the Internet by the populationSzadkowski, M. (2019) Internet coupé en Iran : « Le niveau de sophistication de ce blocage est une première ». Le Monde. … Continue reading. In parallel to this, the attacks against journalists are growing more frequent, opposition journals are threatened by the regime, and the sentences handed down by justice to journalists are often superior to the legal maximum applicable.
Massoumeh Raouf, former journalist and Iranian political prisoner, testifies: “For any report and information that the government and the Supreme Guide do not approve, arrest, prison, and torture awaitsDaizey, M. G., (2022) Iran : Les femmes, « l’avant-garde de la Révolution » nationale. L’œil de la Maison des Journalistes. … Continue reading”. Violence and harassment then constitute the only two responses that the Mollah regime is giving to the calls for emancipation carried by these journalists. Ever since the beginning of the demonstrations in 2022, women, just like the Iranian women journalists, are disproportionately affected. Journalists are more than ever before the targets of threats in the course of their duties, but also physical attacks – hit by the police in the streets – or violent arrests – sometimes in their homes and in the middle of the night. Some journalists, that covered demonstrations without participating to them, have also been arrested, with cameras and microphones in hand, with other demonstrators for taking part in these demonstrations.
After the arrests, Iranian women journalists are also prohibited from hiring lawyers for their defence, and are facing unequal procedures, and their equipment is also confiscatedNazish, K. (2022) Women Journalists face Increasing Danger in Iran, InkstickMedia. https://inkstickmedia.com/women-journalists-face-increasing-danger-in-iran/. The imprisoned journalists that are living in poor conditions are often the targets of sexual assaults and acts of torture, used as a “repression tool” according to Narges MohammadiGolshiri, G. (2023), En Iran, la militante des droits humains Narges Mohammadi dénonce les abus sexuels en prison. Le Figaro. … Continue reading. The sentences these journalists face are also disproportionate, often going up to several years in prison or even death sentencesRSF, (2002), In the event of an indictment for “propaganda against the system and conspiracy to act against national security”, which constitutes a sign that the Mollah regime is ready to do anything in order to silence women. The testimonies of online harassment orchestrated by the government, especially against journalists from the Iranian diaspora that write about the abuses happening in the countryArticle 19 (2021) Online harassment against women journalists in the Iranian diaspora. https://www.article19.org/resources/online-harassment-against-women-journalists-in-the-iranian-diaspora/, are also legion, showing the hold that the regime wants to have on journalists that are bringing attention to its actions.
Women journalists, symbols and pioneers for gender equality and the rejection of a patriarchal system, remain the first victims of the will of the government to silence the spokeswomen of the rebellion, that dare to defend their rights. Their talks, writings and photographs can not only be used by the international community to denounce the actions of the Iranian government, but also stir up the internal uprising and thus represent a danger to the maintain of this discriminatory regime.
In this regard, the official charges chosen by the Iranian justice for the imprisoned Iranian journalists and defenders of human rights, accusing them of taking part in “propaganda against the system” and “conspiring to act against national securityRSF, (2023) 73 femmes journalistes passeront la journée du 8 mars derrière les barreaux. https://rsf.org/fr/73-femmes-journalistes-passeront-la-journ%C3%A9e-du-8-mars-derri%C3%A8re-les-barreaux”, show the way in which the requests for emancipation are considered by the Mollah regime. These “threats to national security” call into question a discriminatory regime towards women, that the government considers as dangerous for its livelihood.
The courage and determination of younger generations, hopes for an advancement of women journalists’ rights in Iran?
The decision of the Mollah regime in September 2022 to restrict access to social media in the country is a testament to the role of these media in the planning and the dynamism of these demonstrations. The Arab Spring of 2011, during which the entire North African and Middle Eastern countries have revolted against the yoke of their governments, through protests organized on social media, shows the power of emancipation these networks represent, and the freedom of information they promote. While the last working media in the country are government media, the Iranian women journalists that cover controversial subjects such as politics or human rights are struggling to find viable communication networks. So, they take over social media to share the reality of the protests, social media thus becoming a source of power, the power to go beyond the government to inform the rest of the world.
If “social media gave a lot of power to dissentersKian, A. (2022) Manifestations en Iran : « Les réseaux sociaux ont donné beaucoup de pouvoir à ces jeunes contestataires », observe une spécialiste. France Info. … Continue reading”, the freedoms that these social media offer to women are just as crucial, in an Iranian society in which they are constantly bullied. This Iranian cyber-feminism, a symbol of the emancipation of women through social media, is carrying hope for the fight for equality, just as Déborah Rouach shown in an article in 2020Rouach, D. (2020) Réseaux sociaux et émancipation des femmes : la naissance du cyberféminisme iranien. IGG. https://igg-geo.org/?p=379.
The large use of social media, through which Iranian female citizens share the reality of the protests and the brutality of the police, ends up blurring the line between journalists and defenders of women’s rights. Faced with this semantic debate, the fight for the emancipation of women remains the most important one. The multiplication of possibilities for women to defend their rights and to widely share on social media that broadcast information live throughout the world is a vector of hope.
The death of Masha Amini in September 2022 and the determination of thousands of protestors in Iran is the symbol of a new generation, ready to do anything to defend its rights and freedoms. At the heart of this generation, women, especially journalists, play a primary role, continuing their activities even with the threats they encounter and the risks they are taking, to make their ideals triumph and to enlarge the scope of the movement. The testimonial of an Iranian journalist on this subject speaks for itself: “I will continue to report every single story, because I want the world to know what is happening in my countryNazish, K. (2022) Women Journalists face Increasing Danger in Iran, InkstickMedia. https://inkstickmedia.com/women-journalists-face-increasing-danger-in-iran/”.
“Iranian women are the avant-garde and the strength of changeDaizey, M. G., (2022) Iran : Les femmes, « l’avant-garde de la Révolution » nationale. L’œil de la Maison des Journalistes. … Continue reading”, and the slogan “Women, life, freedom” chanted by the protestors is the symbol of this rebellion and of the aspiring change carried by these women. It shows that “Iranian women are organized, inspired, full of abnegation and ready to bring fundamental changeDaizey, M. G., (2022) Iran : Les femmes, « l’avant-garde de la Révolution » nationale. L’œil de la Maison des Journalistes. … Continue reading”, as Massoumeh Raouf, former Iranian journalist and political prisoner, explains, and they will never cease to fight, as long as they have not obtained what they are fighting for. The signs of support from Iranian men for the women that are fighting for their rights are also a source of hope and show that a real reconsideration of the Iranian patriarchal system is perhaps emerging.
Iranian women journalists, precursors of a democratic impulse, and the necessary support of the international community
The crucial role of Iranian women journalists in current protests goes beyond the information that they are sharing. With their work, these journalists are fighting for both women’s rights and the freedom of the press in their country, two fundamental indicators of the democratic aspect of a regime, which explains the specific targeting they are subjected to by the repressive Iranian State. The daily fights led through their professional activity are carrying a new hope: helping the Iranian regime evolve towards democratic values. However, the repeated imprisonment of Iranian women journalists and obstacles to their activities show the number of challenges the calls for emancipation and evolution of the Iranian society are facing. In Iran, like in other repressive States, the fight still remains long for the triumph of democracy, freedom of press and women’s rights.
Faced with the repression these women are living, a decisive action from the international community is necessary. If the exclusion of Iran in September 2022 from the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), the main organ of the UN in charge of promoting gender equality and the autonomy of women, represents a first step on the diplomatic sceneONU Info, (2022) L’Iran exclu de la Commission de la condition de la femme de l’ONU. https://news.un.org/fr/story/2022/12/1130617, the pressure put on Iranian authorities still needs to be intensified. It also seems crucial that this international condemnation should not only be coming just from Western democracies but also by other nations, especially southern ones, and the economic partners of Iran. Beyond the international advocacy, efforts must be put in place to fight against the impunity the Iranian Mollah regime benefits from, and to promote accountability for the atrocities committed, in continuity with the vote of the Human Rights Council of the UN in November 2022 for the creation of a “fact-finding mission to investigate the allegations of violation of human rights in Iran linked to the demonstrations, in a thorough, independent manner”. On a national level, Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, insists that “countries around the world need to initiate criminal investigations into the heinous crimes committed by the Iranian authorities under universal jurisdictionAmnesty International, (2023) Iran. Un an après le soulèvement réprimé avec violence, la communauté internationale doit lutter contre l’impunité. … Continue reading”. On its part, the Iranian government should “release peaceful protestors, end sham trials, and investigate deaths and acts of tortureHuman Rights Watch, (2023) Iran : Recours à la force brutale dans la répression de la dissidence. … Continue reading”, as Human Rights Watch underlines – even if it seems utopic for the moment, especially in the current context of the Mollah regime working on a new law that would implement “even more severe penalties for defying compulsory veilingAmnesty International, (2023) Iran. Un an après le soulèvement réprimé avec violence, la communauté internationale doit lutter contre l’impunité. … Continue reading”.
The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of the author.
To cite this production: Mortel Pauline, “Women journalists in repressive States: a study of the Iranian case”, 18/09/2023, Gender in Geopolitics Institute, https://igg-geo.org/?p=16060&lang=en
|↑1||ONU, (2023) La Journée mondiale de la liberté de la presse met l’accent sur la liberté d’expression en tant que moteur des droits de l’Homme. https://www.unesco.org/fr/articles/la-journee-mondiale-de-la-liberte-de-la-presse-met-laccent-sur-la-liberte-dexpression-en-tant-que|
|↑2||Ta, H. (2022) “The Amount of Violence is Astonishing”: Why Threats to Journalists are Increasing in Iran. Nieman Reports. https://niemanreports.org/articles/iran-protests-yeganeh-rezaian-interview/|
|↑3, ↑11, ↑20, ↑21||Daizey, M. G., (2022) Iran : Les femmes, « l’avant-garde de la Révolution » nationale. L’œil de la Maison des Journalistes. https://www.oeil-maisondesjournalistes.fr/2022/12/09/iran-les-femmes-lavant-garde-de-la-revolution-nationale/|
|↑4||RSF, (2023) Iran : trois nouvelles femmes journalistes emprisonnées à Téhéran, soit 55 arrestations depuis le début des manifestations. https://rsf.org/fr/iran-trois-nouvelles-femmes-journalistes-emprisonn%C3%A9es-%C3%A0-t%C3%A9h%C3%A9ran-soit-55-arrestations-depuis-le|
|↑5||RSF, (2022) Bilan 2022. https://rsf.org/sites/default/files/medias/file/2022/12/RSF_Bilan2022_FR.pdf|
|↑6||ONU, (2023) Iran : des experts dénoncent l’application répressive des lois sur le hijab. https://news.un.org/fr/story/2023/04/1134247#:~:text=Les%20femmes%20vues%20en%20public,pour%20les%20filles%20en%20Iran|
|↑7||Moravvej, Z. (2021) Dodging Bullets: The Iranian Women Journalists Circumvent Censorship. Master’s dissertation Thesis in Middle East Studies, University of Oslo. https://www.duo.uio.no/bitstream/handle/10852/89065/zahra-moravvej–thesis.pdf|
|↑8||RSF, (2022) Iran : un nombre sans précédent de femmes journalistes derrière les barreaux. https://rsf.org/fr/iran-un-nombre-sans-pr%C3%A9c%C3%A9dent-de-femmes-journalistes-derri%C3%A8re-les-barreaux|
|↑9||Remarks made by the ultra-conservative Ebrahim Raïssi, when talking about the protestors. In : Golshiri, G. (2023) En Iran, la militante des droits humains Narges Mohammadi dénonce les abus sexuels en prison. Le Figaro. https://www.lemonde.fr/international/article/2023/01/02/en-iran-la-militante-des-droits-humains-narges-mohammadi-denonce-les-abus-sexuels-en-prison_6156304_3210.html|
|↑10||Szadkowski, M. (2019) Internet coupé en Iran : « Le niveau de sophistication de ce blocage est une première ». Le Monde. https://www.lemonde.fr/pixels/article/2019/11/20/internet-coupe-en-iran-le-niveau-de-sophistication-de-ce-blocage-est-une-premiere_6019883_4408996.html|
|↑12, ↑19||Nazish, K. (2022) Women Journalists face Increasing Danger in Iran, InkstickMedia. https://inkstickmedia.com/women-journalists-face-increasing-danger-in-iran/|
|↑13||Golshiri, G. (2023), En Iran, la militante des droits humains Narges Mohammadi dénonce les abus sexuels en prison. Le Figaro. https://www.lemonde.fr/international/article/2023/01/02/en-iran-la-militante-des-droits-humains-narges-mohammadi-denonce-les-abus-sexuels-en-prison_6156304_3210.html|
|↑14||RSF, (2002), In the event of an indictment for “propaganda against the system and conspiracy to act against national security”|
|↑15||Article 19 (2021) Online harassment against women journalists in the Iranian diaspora. https://www.article19.org/resources/online-harassment-against-women-journalists-in-the-iranian-diaspora/|
|↑16||RSF, (2023) 73 femmes journalistes passeront la journée du 8 mars derrière les barreaux. https://rsf.org/fr/73-femmes-journalistes-passeront-la-journ%C3%A9e-du-8-mars-derri%C3%A8re-les-barreaux|
|↑17||Kian, A. (2022) Manifestations en Iran : « Les réseaux sociaux ont donné beaucoup de pouvoir à ces jeunes contestataires », observe une spécialiste. France Info. https://www.francetvinfo.fr/societe/droits-des-femmes/manifestations-en-iran-les-reseaux-sociaux-ont-donne-beaucoup-de-pouvoir-a-ces-jeunes-contestataires-observe-une-specialiste_5399155.html|
|↑18||Rouach, D. (2020) Réseaux sociaux et émancipation des femmes : la naissance du cyberféminisme iranien. IGG. https://igg-geo.org/?p=379|
|↑22||ONU Info, (2022) L’Iran exclu de la Commission de la condition de la femme de l’ONU. https://news.un.org/fr/story/2022/12/1130617|
|↑23, ↑25||Amnesty International, (2023) Iran. Un an après le soulèvement réprimé avec violence, la communauté internationale doit lutter contre l’impunité. https://www.amnesty.org/fr/latest/news/2023/09/iran-one-year-after-uprising-international-community-must-combat-impunity-for-brutal-crackdown/|
|↑24||Human Rights Watch, (2023) Iran : Recours à la force brutale dans la répression de la dissidence. https://www.hrw.org/fr/news/2023/01/12/iran-recours-la-force-brutale-dans-la-repression-de-la-dissidence|