The Iranian judiciary has announced that the trials of Elahe Mohammadi and Niloofar Hamedi, two women journalists who are being prosecuted for covering the events surrounding Mahsa Amini’s death in police custody, will start on May 29 and 30, respectively.
These two journalists have been behind bars for more than eight months. According to sources close to them, their court appointed lawyers did not meet the two until May 28 and were not allowed to study their cases.
The judiciary announced the charges against the journalists and the dates of the trials before informing their lawyers. The two are scheduled to be tried behind closed doors at Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court, presided by Judge Abolghasem Salavati, one of the most notorious Revolutionary Court judges.
In the past days, many organizations both inside and outside Iran, including the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its Iranian affiliate, the Tehran Province Journalists Association (TPJA), have demanded that the trial of Mohammadi and Hamedi be held in an open court.
To find out more about these two cases, IranWire spoke with Saleh Nikbakht, the lawyer representing Mahsa Amini’s family.
Elahe Mohammadi and Niloofar Hamedi have been under temporary detention for eight months. Under the law, can temporary detentions last so long?
Temporary arrest warrants are categorized by the type of offense. The law states that a temporary arrest warrant for offenses involving murder is valid for two months, can be renewed for another two months. After that, the warrant must be changed to a permanent detention warrant [subject to whether the judge allows bail or not]. In the case of other offenses, the maximum arrest warrant lasts one month and can be renewed for another month.
These two journalists have now been under arrest for more than eight months, whereas the investigation of their cases was concluded after two months and they were transferred from solitary confinement to the common ward. It is not clear why and on what grounds these two journalists have been kept in prison with a temporary arrest warrant. To all appearances, their detention is illegal.
The charges brought against these two journalists include collaborating with “belligerent governments,” and the name of the United States was mentioned. Is America a “belligerent” government?
According to what Iranian newspapers and especially news agencies affiliated with the intelligence and security agencies have published, one of the charges against these two journalists is “collaboration with belligerent states,” meaning the US.
But, for the following reasons, we and the United States are not in a state of belligerency. Two countries are in a state of belligerency if they are at war or had been at war and have agreed on a temporary cease-fire without achieving peace. We have never been at war with America and we are not at war with the US either. What is more, there is a treaty of friendship between Iran and the US that was signed in 1955. Iran has cited this treaty in international institutions. Based on this treaty, Iran [partially] won its case at [the International Court of Justice] in Hague against the US. Therefore, Iran cannot claim that it has a friendship agreement with the US and, at the same time, say that the two countries are belligerents.”
Iran, the US and most other countries in the world have signed the Geneva Conventions of 1949. According to these conventions, as I explained before, countries are considered belligerents only if they are at war or have agreed to a cease-fire.
Besides, only the Supreme Leader decides whether Iran is at war or at peace with other countries, and the courts, the intelligence and security agencies or others cannot decide whether we are in a state of belligerency with another country or not.
Another charge brought against the two journalists is “assembly and collusion against national security.” Hamedi and Mohammadi worked at two separate newspapers, Shargh and Ham-Mihan. Can “assembly and collusion” apply to them?
The charge of “assembly and collusion against national security” that has been brought against these two journalists has been used over the past quarter of a century to convict many. But Article 610 of the Islamic Penal Code defining this crime states that when two or more individuals collude and conspire to commit crimes against the national or foreign security of the country…shall be sentenced to two to five years’ imprisonment.
These two journalists have two separate cases that would be handled in two separate trials; therefore, you cannot charge them with “assembly and collusion.” Also, the charge of “collusion with a belligerent government” is not valid either for reasons that I explained earlier. Besides, they were doing their jobs as professional journalists when they wrote reports about Mahsa Amini’s condition and the ceremonies [after her death]. Writing such reports is not a crime, and it is the journalists’ professional duty.
Even if these journalists have used illegal words, phrases or topics in their reports, it does not fall under the charge of “assembly and collusion.” In other words, even if these journalists have used such phrases, they can be charged with “spreading lies” or libel. The crime of “spreading lies to agitate the public” does not fall under the jurisdiction of the Revolutionary Courts and must be handled by general courts.”
In such cases, the managing editors of the newspapers should attend the trials as well?
“The trials for spreading lies start with the trial of the managing editors of the newspapers that published the articles. The trial must be held in the presence of a jury, and if the jury finds the managing editors guilty, then the reporters can be put on trial as well. But, in violation of these laws, the cases of these two journalists have been sent to Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court where Mr. Salavati is the judge. And, based on what we know about Mr. Salavati, he would bring back the head if he is asked for the hat.
According to the families of Hamedi and Mohammadi, the lawyers did not meet with their clients until May 28. Doesn’t this adversely affect their defense?
A lawyer must be able to read the case of his client in every detail, and, if necessary, meet his client in person in order to come up with a strategy of defense. If these colleagues were able to study the cases thoroughly, then they must ask the court to postpone the trial, as the law requires them to do. Also, their lawyers must demand the immediate release of these two journalists because, as I said, the investigations are finished and these two ladies have been kept illegally in temporary detention.
Furthermore, holding this trial behind closed doors is not legal and the right thing to do is to hold an open trial in the presence of journalists and other members of the public, especially lawyers. In the past week, a number of lawyers requested to be present at this trial as observers so that they can inform the public through the media if they see problems arising.
You are the Amini family’s lawyer and these two journalists were arrested after they reported about this young woman’s death. Do you know what the Amini family thinks about their cases?
Amini’s family is very well-informed, and they are aware of laws and regulations. They have asked me several times to call, on behalf of the family, for the release of these two journalists. The Amini family condemns their eight-month detention. They also believe that, neither in their
interviews with the family or in the reports that they published, they stated anything illegal about Mahsa, and that they do not deserve to be arrested and put on trial.