Two female journalists who were instrumental in reporting the death of Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old woman whose death in the custody of Iran’s morality police has sparked nationwide protests, have been labelled as CIA foreign agents by the Iranian regime.
Niloofar Hamedi and Elahe Mohammadi, who were arrested shortly after news broke of Amini’s death and who are reportedly being held in Iran’s notorious Evin prison, were accused of being foreign agents in a joint statement released by Iran’s ministry of intelligence and the intelligence organisation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards last night.
The statement, which refers to the two women as NH and EM, also described the protests as a pre-planned operation launched by the CIA, Mossad and other western intelligence agencies.
The statement, which accused both women of being “primary sources of news for foreign media”, accused Hamedi of posing as a journalist and of compelling the family of Mahsa Amini to release information about their daughter’s death.
Hamedi was the first journalist to report from the hospital where Amini was being treated after collapsing while in the custody of Iranian authorities, who arrested her for wearing her hijab incorrectly.
Mohammadi has been accused by the IRGC and the intelligence ministry of receiving training as a foreign agent abroad for her reporting from Amini’s funeral in her home town of Saqqez.
Mohammadi was arrested on 22 September and her lawyer said security forces broke down her door and took away personal items such as her phone and laptop.
The statement, which was sent to Iranian news agencies on Friday evening, has been received with shock and fear by other Iranian journalists. The crime of spying for foreign governments carries the death penalty in Iran.
More than 40 journalists have been detained since the protests erupted on streets across the country. Iran’s Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) estimates that more than 220 people have died at the hands of the security forces since demonstrations began more than six weeks ago.
“They’ve accused Niloofar and Elahe of being trained by the CIA. I can’t be in contact with [any foreign journalists] any more,” said Reza*, a print journalist for an Iranian publication.
“They’re closely monitoring us and I have been advised to cut all ties with foreign correspondents. I have received calls from abroad on my cellphone and if they monitor my phone records and find that someone from the west was calling, even if it’s a friend, that’ll be a huge risk.”
Aferin, another journalist working for an Iranian news source, said the moves to label the two journalists as spies was part of a concerted attack on the media in Iran, which would inevitably lead to further arrests as the regime attempted to prevent news of what was happening on the ground from reaching a global audience.
“Now they’ll waste no time punishing the journalists. They know that there are people inside Iran, like myself, who are in touch with friends or media abroad. They’ll use this statement and conclusion to make more arrests, or worse, execute their own citizens for espionage,” he said.
* Names have been changed.