Amnesty International Urges Iran to Release Journalist and Women’s Rights Activist Zhila Bani-Yaghoub

Press Release
September 4, 2012

Amnesty International Urges Iran to Release Journalist and Women’s Rights Activist Zhila Bani-Yaghoub

Woman Jailed for “Insulting the President” Must Be Released and Permitted to Continue Human Rights Work

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, strimel@aiusa.org, 212-633-4150, @strimel

(New York) – Amnesty International today called on the Iranian authorities to release journalist and women’s rights activist Zhila Bani-Yaghoub, who was summoned to the notorious Evin Prison on Sunday to begin a one-year sentence. Amnesty International considers her to be a prisoner of conscience held solely for speaking out against authorities and reporting on human rights.

Bani-Yaghoub, the editor of the Focus on Iranian Women website, was convicted of "spreading propaganda against the system” and “insulting the president.” In addition to her imprisonment, she has been banned from media and journalistic activities for 30 years.

“The Iranian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release Zhila Bani-Yaghoub, who is a prisoner of conscience held solely for peacefully exercising her rights to freedom of expression, and allow her to resume her work,” said Ann Harrison, Amnesty International’s deputy program director for Middle East and North Africa.

“Journalists in Iran face numerous restrictions on their legitimate work, including peaceful criticism of the authorities and reporting on human rights. The Iranian authorities must relax unlawful restrictions on them and release all journalists held solely for their journalism and human rights work.”

Bani-Yaghoub had previously been tried and acquitted of similar charges on three occasions, and in April 2011 was further charged with "having a personal blog without any authorization from government authorities."

She received the 2009 Courage in Journalism prize by the International Women's Media Foundation in 2009 and the Freedom of Speech Award from Reporters Without Borders in 2010.

Bani-Yaghoub, whose husband, Bahman Ahmadi Amou'i (or Amouie), was editor at the business daily paper Sarmayeh before he was imprisoned, was arrested alongside her in 2009, shortly after the controversial presidential victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

She was released two months later, but her husband remains in prison where he is serving a five-year prison sentence for "gathering and colluding with intent to harm national security," "spreading propaganda against the system," "disrupting public security," and "insulting the president."

On June 26, Bahman Ahmadi Amou'i was transferred from Evin Prison to Raja’i Shahr Prison where he is held in “internal exile." He was not allowed family visits for the first 50 days of confinement.

Amnesty International has also repeatedly called on the Iranian authorities to immediately release other prisoners of conscience, including journalist and political activist Isa Saharkhiz, who was detained without charge or trial for more than a year before being sentenced in September 2010 to three years’ imprisonment for “insulting the country’s leadership” and “propaganda against the system.”

In August 2011, Saharkhiz was sentenced to an additional two years in prison in connection with his previous activities as a journalist, increasing his prison term to five years. Saharkhiz is currently in poor health, and spent the last six months in hospital.

On August 28, 2012 he was moved from hospital to Section 209 of Evin Prison, reported to be run by the Ministry of Intelligence. He started a hunger strike the same day in protest against his transfer, and stopped taking his medication on September 3, 2012.

Iranian journalists have long been persecuted for expressing views contrary to those of the authorities. Dozens have been harassed, detained and imprisoned following unfair trials, and many of those arrested for non-violent professional activities before and after the disputed June 2009 election remain in prison, where they are held in poor conditions and often denied access to family members or fair representation.

Some are in extremely poor health, such as prisoner of conscience Mohammad Sadiq Kaboudvand, a journalist and member of Iran’s Kurdish minority who is serving a 10-and-a-half-year prison term for peaceful journalistic activities.

Some of those who have been released remain under pressure, having been forced to make significant bail payments to secure their release.

Detainees' families have also been harassed or temporarily detained.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.