March 21, 2023

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Protesting for Women’s Rights: The Faces of Death Row in Iran

Niloofar Hamedi, Journalist

The photo associated with Niloofar Hamedi that most people remember doesn’t show her at all. Rather it is a picture she shared on Twitter on September 16 of a man and a woman embracing in a hospital hallway. They are parents of Jina Mahsa Amini, and their daughter lay in a coma in that hospital after collapsing while in police custody.

Hamedi was one of the first to document the fate of the young Kurdish woman. Jina Mahsa Amini died that same day in Kasra Hospital, which triggered the current wave of protests in Iran.

Just a few days later, officers arrested 30-year-old Hamedi. Security officials are said to have searched her home and confiscated both her mobile phone and laptop. Among the charges leveled against her is espionage, which can be punished by execution. She is alleged to have been trained by foreign intelligence agencies. She has, according to reports, been locked away in solitary confinement since then.

Hamedi was almost certainly fully aware of the risk she was taking. According to Reporters Without Borders, there are currently 46 journalists in prison in Iran. On the organization’s World Press Freedom Index, Iran is in position 178 out of 180. Even prior to Amini’s death, Hamedi had written about the brutality of Iran’s morality police. “She always went beyond her limit to be the voice of voiceless women who were deprived of their rights, whether by their fathers, husbands, or by social limitations,” a friend of hers told  Reuters in October.

Pictures taken before her imprisonment show her working as a reporter in a football stadium or lying in the sun in a meadow. Her husband wrote on Twitter that she loves yoga, adding that supporters should write her a letter, since she also loves receiving mail. In photos, Hamedi wears a headscarf, often in light colors, but always loose. Sometimes, she doesn’t wear one at all. One photo shows her smiling in a field of flowers, her arms spread wide.

On the hundredth day of her imprisonment, her husband shared a map on Twitter of his marathon training map around the prison. He wrote that as he runs around the prison on the outside, she is running inside. “We are on two different sides of the wall, but we aren’t giving up on life,” he wrote. “The strength of our love is stronger than the power of darkness.”
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