Women of Evin: Ward 209

Jila Baniyaghoob is a freelance reporter and editor-in-chief of the Web site Kanoon Zanan Irani (Iranian Women’s Center), to which contributors inside and outside Iran provide news about women’s issues.

The site has been filtered repeatedly by the Iranian government. Baniyaghoob faces many social and political obstacles in her country amidst a restrictive environment for women and journalists. Her reporting on sensitive issues has led to her being beaten, arrested and imprisoned multiple times.

She was first imprisoned by Iranian authorities in June 2006 while reporting on an assault by security forces on a women’s rights rally. Authorities charged her with “acting against national security” and “participating in an illegal demonstration”, but she was acquitted in January 2007. On 8 March 2007, she was again arrested during a rally for International Women’s Day, held near Iran’s parliament building. She was then taken Evin Prison and interrogated blindfolded in the “notorious” Ward 209, the detention center of the Iranian secret police. In 2010, Baniyaghoob was tried and convicted for “spreading propaganda against the system” and “insulting the president”. The court banned her from practicing journalism for thirty years and sentenced her to a year in prison. On 2 September 2012, she was summoned to Evin Prison to begin the sentence. Amnesty International designated her a prisoner of conscience, “held solely for peacefully exercising her rights to freedom of expression”, and called for her to be released and allowed to resume her profession.

Baniyaghoob began her journalism career at the daily newspaper Hamshahri while still a journalism student at the University of Allameh Tabatabayi. She has worked for various newspapers since then; she has been threatened or fired many times for her reporting on government and social oppression, particularly as they affect women. While working for Sarmayeh newspaper, Baniyaghoob started a section on women’s economy, which contained interviews with experts on the gender aspects of economic issues. The section was cancelled in 2008 due to pressure from the conservative owners of the newspaper.

Baniyaghoob travelled throughout the Middle East, including Afghanistan, Palestine, Lebanon and Syria in 2001-2002. She has written accounts of refugees and women she met, covering topics such as social and legal discrimination. She is a founding member of the One Million Signatures Campaign for Equality, which aims to change the discriminatory laws against women in Iran. Baniyaghoob won the 2009 IWMF (International Women’s Media Foundation) Courage in Journalism Award for fearlessly reporting on government and social oppression, particularly as they affect women. Baniyaghoob has also published a book, Journalists in Iran, which documents the experiences of Iranian journalists, especially women under duress. The book includes stories of some of her own experiences.

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