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Iran jails two journalists for covering protests sparked by death of Mahsa Amini

FILE PHOTO: Women take part in a rally on the first anniversary of the death of Mahsa Amini in Istanbul

DUBAI (Reuters) -An Iranian Revolutionary Court sentenced two journalists to years in prison for their coverage of the death in custody of Kurdish-Iranian Mahsa Amini last year, state media reported on Sunday.

The death of 22-year-old Amini last September while in the custody of the morality police for allegedly violating the Islamic dress code unleashed months of mass protests across Iran, marking the biggest challenge to Iran's clerical leaders in decades.

Iran's state news agency IRNA said Niloofar Hamedi and Elaheh Mohammadi were sentenced to 13 and 12 years in prison respectively on charges, including collaboration with the U.S. government and acting against national security.

Lawyers for the two women have rejected the charges.

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"They received seven years and six years each respectively for collaborating with the hostile U.S. government. Then each five years in prison for acting against the national security and each one year in prison for propaganda against the system," IRNA reported.

Hamedi was detained after she took a picture of Amini's parents hugging each other in a Tehran hospital where their daughter was lying in a coma and Mohammadi after she covered Amini's funeral in her Kurdish hometown Saqez, where the protests began.

IRNA said the "issued verdicts" were subject to appeal.

The United States condemned the sentences.

"(They) should never have been jailed, and we condemn their sentences. The Iranian regime jails journalists because it fears the truth," Deputy Special Envoy for Iran Abram Paley said on social media.

If confirmed, the time the women have already spent at the Evin jail, where most political prisoners are held, would be deducted from the sentences, according to the judiciary's Mizan news agency.

A statement released by Iran’s intelligence ministry in October last year accused Mohammadi and Hamedi of being agents for the United States' Central Intelligence Agency.

"There is documented evidence of Hamedi and Mohammadi's intentional connections with certain entities and individuals affiliated with the U.S. government," Mizan reported.

(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Barbara Lewis)