In an interview with Centre for Human Rights in Iran on 1 April 2017, Hengameh Shahidi’s mother Nahid Kermanshahi said that her daughter’s health was extremely poor, that Hengameh Shahidi is experiencing pain in her heart and is unable to walk. She said that Hengameh Shahidi had told her that she had given her will and testament to her interrogator. Hengameh Shahidi had also told the interrogator “if something happens to me, you will have to answer for it. The top-level decision-makers behind this will have to answer. The President, Ministry of Intelligence, the Office of the Prosecutor, and the judiciary will be responsible for my death”.
In a letter that Hengameh Shahidi wrote by hand prior to her arrest and that was posted by a contact of hers on her Instagram account on 11 March, she had predicted that she would be arrested as part of a "project to arrest political activists and journalists before the [May 2017] presidential election so that the designated candidate could be guaranteed victory, just like in the 2009 election.”
Hengameh Shahidi was an advisor on women’s issues to candidate Mehdi Karroubi during his 2009 presidential election campaign and is a member of his political party, the E’temad-e Melli (National Trust Party). She was first arrested by Ministry of Intelligence officials on 30 June 2009. She was held for four months in Section 209 of Evin prison, 50 days of which were in solitary confinement in a tiny cell which measured one metre by two metres. She has said that she was tortured through beatings and threats of execution during this time and was in constant fear that she would be executed. She has said that she was also left in a room with ropes and knives for hours, which she felt was intended to drive her to commit suicide. Her interrogators also threatened to arrest members of her family. She was repeatedly interrogated in detention without a lawyer present and was allowed only limited contact with her family. She was denied access to her lawyer, despite his repeated requests for access, until the start of her trial in November 2009.
Later that month, following an unfair trial before Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran, Hengameh Shahidi was convicted of “gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security” and “spreading propaganda against the system” and sentenced to six years’ imprisonment. The “evidence” used against her in court included her observance of the post-presidential election demonstrations in her capacity as a journalist, giving media interviews, signing statements addressed to United Nations human rights bodies about human rights violations in Iran, supporting a campaign to end executions by stoning in Iran, and collecting signatures for the One Million Signatures Campaign (also known as the Campaign for Equality) – a campaign that sought to change discriminatory laws affecting women in Iran. Her conviction and sentence were later upheld by Branch 54 of the Court of Appeal. She had also been sentenced to 91 days’ imprisonment for “insulting the President” but this was overturned by the appeal court.
Hengameh Shahidi had been released on bail on 1 November 2009 after going on hunger strike to protest her detention but was rearrested on 25 February 2010 after being summoned for questioning by the Ministry of Intelligence and taken to Evin prison to serve her sentence. She was granted medical leave in May 2011 and had been at liberty until her most recent arrest.
The Iranian authorities have renewed their crackdown on media workers in recent months in the lead up to the presidential election in May 2017. A number of journalists have been arrested, including newspaper editor Ehsan Mazandarani who was arrested by Revolutionary Guards officials on 11 March, and editor-in-chief of Goftegoo (Conversation) magazine Morad Saghafi, who was arrested on 15 March. A number of administrators of channels on the mobile messaging app Telegram, which is a platform used by millions of people in Iran, have also been arrested.