Iranian journalist sentenced to death in closed trial

New York, August 6, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the death sentence handed down in mid-July by a revolutionary court against Adnan Hassanpour, a journalist and former editor for the now-defunct Kurdish-Persian weekly Aso in Iran’s northwestern province of Kurdistan. Iranian Kurdish environmental activist Abdulvahed Butimar was also convicted and sentenced to death.

Hassanpour was convicted of endangering national security and engaging in propaganda against the state, one of his attorneys, Sirvan Hosmandi, told CPJ in a telephone interview conducted Wednesday through an interpreter.

“We are alarmed that this death sentence has been issued in a closed trial,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “Iranian authorities must provide a fair and transparent legal process.”

Iranian judiciary spokesman Ali Reza Jamshidi was quoted by the official Islamic Republic News Agency on Tuesday confirming that both men “have been sentenced to execution on the charge of moharebeh,” The Associated Press reported. In the Iranian Islamic penal code, Moharebeh (fighting with God) is used by the Iranian authorities against persons who allegedly take up arms to violently overthrow the regime. Jamshidi gave the remarks during a weekly news conference, Reuters said. The news agency quoted him as saying that Hassanpour and Butimar “have taken arms to topple the system.”

Hassanpour and Butimar will appeal their sentence to Iran’s Supreme Court, U.S. government-funded Radio Farda reported. Hosmandi told CPJ that both men were currently being held in Kurdistan province’s capital, Sanandaj.

The exact charges and the evidence used to convict the men remain murky. Dr. Roya Toloui, a Kurdish women’s rights activist and journalist currently based in the United States, told CPJ that she suspects Hassanpour’s critical writings are behind the charges that led to his death penalty. Toloui is a former journalist at Aso and a friend of Hassanpour.

The Revolutionary Court has only confirmed the death sentence against Hassanpour and Butimar, but has not publicly provided full information about the basis for its convictions. Hassanpour’s attorneys say the specific charges used to convict their client are not directly related to his journalism.

Security agents seized the reporter in his hometown of Marivan, in the Kurdistan province, on January 25, according to news reports and international human rights organizations. There are conflicting news reports as to the exact date Butimar was arrested, but it was sometime in late December 2006 or early January 2007.

Hassanpour and Butimar were taken to an intelligence ministry jail in Sanandaj and held for several months without charge before being transferred in late March to a prison in Marivan, according to Amnesty International.

Hassanpour worked as an editor for nearly two years at Aso. The weekly was banned in August 2005 following its coverage of violent protests in the Kurdistan area that summer. Hassanpour has a separate, ongoing court case over articles he wrote for Aso.