On September 20, Sazandegi, a centrist daily, published a cover photo of late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. “Death of U.S. Judge,” read the headline marking her passing on September 18 of pancreatic cancer. The newspaper also speculated on the political repercussions. “With the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Democrats fear a change in the power balance of the Supreme Court,” Sazandegi reported.
One week later, Donya ye Eqtesad, Iran's leading financial newspaper, published a photo of Amy Coney Barrett – President Donald Trump's nominee to replace Ginsburg. The newspaper said that Barrett, a conservative justice, would swing the court to the right. "GOP to Gain Full Control over U.S. Supreme Court," Donya ye Eqtesad reported on September 27.
The photos were notable because dozens of women's rights activists in Iran have been arrested and sentenced to long prison terms for undermining the regime. Iran’s most prominent human rights lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, has been detained since June 2018. In March 2019, she was convicted of nine crimes and sentenced to a total of 38 years in prison and 148 lashes. Among the charges, she was sentenced to 12 years for “encouraging corruption and prostitution,” according to her husband, Reza Khandan, for representing a woman arrested for peacefully protesting compulsory hijab (head covering). Sotoudeh began a hunger strike on August 11 to demand the release of political prisoners amid the COVID-19 pandemic. She was also protesting the denial of due process and access to legal representation for inmates.
The photographs were also notable in part because the women's hair were visible. Since the 1979 Islamic revolution, women in Iran have been required to wear a hijab in public. Newspapers and websites have usually edited photographs of Iranian and foreign women, including Michelle Obama, to cover or obscure hair, with few exceptions.