By Shima Shahrabi
September 3, 2019
Less than a month after arresting photojournalist and culture reporter Nooshin Jafari on blasphemy charges, Iranian authorities have now detained her sister as well.
The move comes just as more than 200 film and theater directors, artists and actors issued a statement in support of Nooshin Jafari, about whom her sister, Shahrzad Jafari, is accused of disseminating information [Persian link].
“This morning Shahrzad Jafari, sister of Nooshin Jafari, was arrested,” civil rights activist Shiva Nazarahari tweeted on September 1 [Persian link]. “They had warned her not to provide information about her sister’s situation and they raided her home at dawn. Are you Muslims? Damn you…”
It is not yet clear who is responsible for Nooshin Jafari’s arrest, on August 3. Since then the photojournalist has been allowed to call her family just once. The only other time the family heard her desperate and tearful voice was when Nazarahari published an audio clip that Jafari sent August 21 via her personal Instagram account.
In the message, Jafari begs Nazarahari to send her the password, username and email for the Yar-e Dabestani (‘schoolmate’) Twitter handle. She begins the clip by saying: “Dear Shiva, I’m under intense pressure here” and ends with “please rescue me from here.” Jafari can then be heard crying.
In the weeks since Nooshin Jafari’s arrested, so-called “security accounts” have accused her of administering the Yar-e Dabestani Twitter account and have asked that she feel the full force of the law. “Security accounts” are the term Iranians on social media use to describe fake profiles that Iran’s security establishment and intelligence agents use to frame activists and independent journalists.
Iranian authorities describe the Yar-e Dabestani account as “subversive” and “blasphemous.” They say Jafari tried to undermine the Islamic Republic. They also accuse her of disparaging the Prophet Muhammad and “insulting the sacred.” A judiciary spokesman confirmed that Jafari has indeed been charged with these crimes.
Shahrzad Jafari was the first person to publicly deny any connection between the controversial Twitter account and her sister. “Yar-e Dabestani has nothing to do with my sister,” she told Ensaf News. “She has only one Twitter account, with her own name and surname, and if you search you will find the account under the name ‘Nooshin Jafari.’ Claims to the contrary are only lies and rumors that were started by a Twitter account by the name of ‘Mr. Seyed’… The [real] administrator of Yar-e Dabestani has himself tweeted that they are framing Nooshin Jafari.”
‘Framework of the law’
Friends of Nooshin Jafari also deny that she administers the account. But in a press conference, judiciary spokesperson Gholam Hossein Esmaili confirmed the charges against her.
Responding to reporters, he said: “This person is being prosecuted not because of her career in journalism but because of her insults to holy figures and Imam Hussain [the martyred third Shia Imam], as well as the crime of ‘propaganda against the regime.’”
After Nooshin Jafari’s audio message from prison was published, Esmaili again defended the conduct of the judiciary. In response to Jafari’s claim that she was under intense pressure in prison, the spokesperson said that “the prisoners can contact their families and this is one of the privileges of our prison system.”
He went on to say that inmates “can make false claims.” There is no doubt, said Esmaili, that the judiciary “works within the framework of the law.”
Shahrzad Jafari responded via Twitter. “Mr. Judiciary Spokesman, it seems that you have got the question wrong!” she wrote. “Do you consider it a privilege that during her 25 days of detention my sister made a single two-minute call through WhatsApp, and that you placed a photographer, whose guilt has yet to be proven, next to a drug smuggler?”
Shortly after Nooshin Jafari’s arrest, “security accounts” published lists of photos taken from various hard drives and other digital storage devices confiscated from her home. The accounts questioned why Jafari should have so many storage devices, completely ignoring the fact that she is a photojournalist and therefore needed them, given how much digital space photos take up.
“I really don’t know who took the lists of pictures, to whom the lists were sent and how they were spread around,” Shahrzad Jafari told Ensaf News. “Many people came to our home for the arrest — six men and a woman — and I have no idea whether they were the ones who took the lists that night. I only know that the lists were taken from our home but not by members of my family or myself.”
“They’re now using the lists of pictures to say that celebrities, who appear in some of the images, are supporting her. But the [celebrity] pictures on those hard drives are related to movies and the theater,” Shahrzad Jafari added. “Considering my sister’s job, it is only natural that she would have so many hard drives.”
In recent days, many people in Iranian cinema have used social networks to express their support for Nooshin Jafari. Earlier, an informed source told IranWire that a number of the film-industry professionals supporting Nooshin Jafari have been summoned by the security department of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance.
In the case of one television and movie star, Hanieh Tavassoli, the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) media corporation decided to “picture-ban” the actress for her support of Nooshin Jafari.
Still, more than 200 movie and theater directors, artists and actors released an open letter announcing their support for Nooshin Jafari. “We, the cinema and theater family, express our deep concern over the conditions and the health of our colleague and demand that she be afforded due process of law,” the letter reads.
Speaking to IranWire in the wake of Shahrzad Jafari’s arrest, one of the letter’s signatories said:
“Now that Nooshin’s sister has been arrested and there is nobody to be her voice, we all must be Nooshin’s voice.”