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Iran’s 17 Surveillance Tapes Show Journalists Accused of Spying Are Being Prosecuted for Independent Reporting

Elaheh Mohammadi and Niloufar Hamedi X screenshot January 14, 2024
Elaheh Mohammadi and Niloufar Hamedi X screenshot January 14, 2024

“Although some claimed that the two arrested journalists were innocent after Mahsa Amini's death, documents were published that clearly show their actions and reveal the cooperation of the two with the American and Western spy services.”


On January 14, the Iranian regime released journalists Niloufar Hamedi and Elaheh Mohammadi from prison after 16 months of incarceration. Each of them posted $200,000 bail, and the court imposed a travel ban on both, preventing them from leaving Iran.

On January 15, just one day after their release, Iran’s judiciary launched a new case against the journalists, accusing them of violating hijab regulations by not covering their hair. If convicted, both women face an additional prison term.

Hamedi and Mohammadi were initially taken into custody in September 2022, shortly after widespread protests erupted in Iran in reaction to the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini. Amini was detained for improperly wearing a hijab and died while in police custody. Hamedi’s and Mohammadi’s trials commenced last May.

Hamedi, who originally reported on Amini's death, received a seven-year prison sentence, while Mohammadi, who covered Amini's funeral, was sentenced to six years in prison. According to the Mizan news website, the charges against them included collaborating with the “hostile American government, conspiring against national security, and engaging in propaganda against the system.”

In October 2022, during the two journalists’ initial trial, the website of Iran's Fars News Agency, which is managed by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — a paramilitary force loyal to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei — published 17 videos released by the Iranian judiciary. The videos ostensibly present “documentary evidence of crimes” committed by Hamedi and Mohammadi.

Introducing the 17 clips, wrote:

“Although some claimed that the two arrested journalists were innocent after Mahsa Amini's death, documents were published that clearly show their actions and reveal the cooperation of the two with the American and Western spy services.”

That is false. has translated and analyzed all 17 video clips, which appear to be a combination of the Iranian judiciary’s “explanatory” narrations and surveillance audio recordings, presumably of the two journalists. We are unable to confirm the veracity of the audio recordings or that the voices in them belong to Hamedi and Mohammadi.

The narration in the videos and the audio recordings are missing key details and appear to be taken out of context. It is possible that the vague nature of the clips was intentional and designed to misinform and create uncertainty.

Nothing in the video clips proves that Hamedi and Mohammadi cooperated with any foreign intelligence agencies.

Below are summaries of each of the recordings:

In the first video, a male-voiced narration introduces Mohammadi as a journalist “primarily” focused on “spreading false information” and “tarnishing women’s reputation.” That is followed by what sounds like surveillance audio of Mohammadi telling an unidentified person by telephone that she has reports of widespread sexual harassment of women that she can share.

The second video alleges that Mohammadi disseminated false information about the police beating Amini. It also includes audio of a purported conversation between Mohammadi and Amini's uncle, during which Mohammadi mentions blood from Amini's ears, which the uncle denies.

The third video suggests that the news reported by the two journalists significantly exacerbated the situation in Iran. It includes several audio recordings. In one of them, Hamedi is speaking with a member of “Azar” about the extensive coverage of Amini’s death across channels. ( was unable to identify any Iran-related activist group or media organization called Azar.) Another recording presumably features Mohammadi's communication with Ghoncheh Ghavami, a figure the Iranian regime associates with what it calls “soft war projects” — campaigns to mobilize societal protests via social media platforms. The audio recording is unclear and Mohammadi's statements in it imply a denial of any involvement with Ghavami.

The fourth video includes an audio recording of a conversation between Ghavami and Elnaz Mohammadi, Elaheh Mohammadi’s sister. In it, Ghavami advises Elnaz to hide a cellphone to prevent confiscation, suggesting that it be buried in the ground and turned off to avoid GPS tracking.

The fifth video contends that Mohammadi formed a group tasked with organizing small gatherings in different areas and spreading negative news to intensify anti-government sentiments. The video claims the group intended to create brochures and other materials designed to portray a negative image of Iran and foster Western cultural influences to change societal views. The video also insinuates that promoting “sexual deviations” in Iran was a key aim of this project.

The sixth video puts forward the claim that the two journalists had undergone media training on how to instigate a crisis, alleging that such training has been a primary objective of Western spy services since the revolution. It specifically mentions that Mohammadi attended a media training in Turkey. The video also includes an audio recording of Mohammadi in which she mentions attending one or two meetings that involved computer training. In another audio recording, in which Mohammadi is speaking with an American reporter, she identifies herself as an activist outside Iran and expresses a desire to promote feminism internationally.

The seventh video highlights Mohammadi's participation in two courses at the Iran Academia Institute, an entity described by the video’s narrator as having “ties to hypocrites.” It includes an audio recording of Mohammadi explaining that the institute is an online group that gave her a graduation certificate. She describes being engaged in numerous theoretical discussions on topics like feminism and social feminism, noting that these were part of the Iran Academia curriculum.

The eighth video claims that Hamedi attended training in South Africa organized by the Democracy Council, “reportedly established by the U.S. Department of State” and overseen by James Prince, described in the video as an “American Zionist.”

The Democracy Council website lists as its sponsors the Robert Bosch Stiftung and the American Ford foundations — both private enterprises with no government funding. There is no mention on the Democracy Council’s website about U.S. government ties or funding.

In the past, however, the Democracy Council had financed media outlets and opposition groups in Syria with State Department funding from 2006 until at least 2010, according to a 2011 Washington Post report citing secret U.S. diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks. At that time, Price told The Post that his Council "administers grants” from the State Department’s Middle East Partnership Initiative but they were not “Syria-specific.”

The video features an audio recording of Hamedi expressing her apprehensiveness about traveling to South Africa for the Democracy Council training. The video suggests that the course focused on teaching how to devise strategies for social change, including by labeling Iran as a country of oppression and discrimination based on gender, religion and ethnicity. It concludes with the mention that Hamedi received a graduation certificate from this course.

The ninth video alleges that Hamedi and Mohammadi were fully aware that their activities were conducted under the guidance and with the backing of the U.S. State Department. It also claims that they are connected to anti-Islamic revolution networks abroad. “Niloufar and Elaheh should never have been jailed, and we condemn their sentences,” U.S. Deputy Special Envoy Abram Paley posted on X in October. “The Iranian regime jails journalists because it fears the truth."

The tenth video features an audio presumably features a recording of a conversation between Mohammadi and Ghavami. The voices in the recording discuss the influence of soft war projects. Mohammadi refers to statements about women living for freedom, mentions the oppression of women from Kurdistan to Tehran and aggression against women. She also recounts an incident in which she and other women allegedly threw stones at the police and then hid behind pillars. There are no details about the place or time of the alleged incident.

The eleventh video focuses on the first day that Mahsa Amini was hospitalized, claiming that Hamedi arrived to take photos and document the scene, planning to stir anti-Iranian government sentiment and spread misinformation. An audio segment includes Hamedi asking Amini's father about the alleged beating, to which he responds by saying he doesn't know anything with certainty about the police treatment of his daughter.

The twelfth video claims that Mohammadi, upon hearing of Amini's death, promptly went to her burial site and produced emotionally charged reports, allegedly fueling the start of riots by generating a tense news environment. The video includes an audio recording of Mohammadi telling a colleague at Amini's funeral that she had covertly recorded an unspecified gathering that included Amini's uncle and grandmother. During the conversation at that gathering, Amini's grandmother allegedly questioned their reason for using recording equipment (which contradicts the narrator’s claim that the recording was done covertly). Subsequently, authorities arrived at the site of that gathering and interrogated them about the recording, prompting them to flee the scene.

The fourteenth video accuses Mohammadi of provoking Amini's father and other relatives with her questions. It includes an audio segment in which Mohammadi asks Amini's father whether the morality patrols should be eradicated. Amini’s father responds that he does not share that opinion.

The fifteenth video includes an audio clip of a conversation between Mohammadi and Amini's cousin, in which Mohammadi poses questions, but the cousin indicates uncertainty about the full details of what happened.

The sixteenth video includes an audio recording of a discussion between Mohammadi and Amini's uncle, who appears to caution Mohammadi against exaggeration.

Mohammadi asks about Amini's medical history — specifically her heart condition — but the uncle remains vague, neither specifying details nor clearly explaining if there was a diagnosis that could explain her death.

The seventeenth video features another audio segment in which Mohammadi is speaking with Amini's uncle and asking if the family had obtained a lawyer and offers to refer them to one. The uncle initially says he hadn't hired a lawyer, but then says he has one. Despite Mohammadi's continued queries about the lawyer, the uncle says the family wants to avoid further escalation and attention.

On October 25, United for Iran, a U.S.-based human rights organization, denied Tehran's allegations that it had collaborated with Mohammadi and Hamedi. It dismissed the allegations as part of the Islamic Republic's longstanding practice of creating false narratives.

Since their arrest, the two Iranian journalists have become internationally renowned and received multiple recognitions, including TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2023, and the United Nations’ Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize.