Court overturns death sentence but journalist faces espionage charges

New York, September 5, 2008–Prosecutors should drop all charges against Iranian journalist Adnan Hassanpour, whose death sentence was overturned Thursday, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

A court of appeal overturned the sentence against Adnan Hassanpour, a journalist and former editor for the now-defunct Kurdish-Persian weekly Aso in Iran’s northwestern province of Kurdistan, local journalists told CPJ. He will face a new trial on charges of “working for outlawed parties” and espionage, a local journalist told CPJ. Salih Nikbakht, Hassanpour’s lawyer, confirmed the new charges to BBC Persian on Wednesday.

A revolutionary court convicted Hassanpour of “fighting with God” (Moharebeh) in a closed trial last year, according to The Associated Press. Iranian Kurdish environmental activist Abdulvahed Butimar was also convicted and sentenced to death. He remains in jail.

“We are relieved that Adnan Hassanpour is no longer under the threat of execution,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “But we are shocked that he continues to face legal charges as a result of his critical journalism.”

Nikbakht told Radio Farda, a U.S.-backed Farsi-language radio station based in Prague and Washington, that his client signed a 148-page confession unrelated to the charges he currently faces.

“He didn’t go into details about the confessions, but he said he had agreed to whatever [the interrogators] wrote because he had been under pressure,” a local journalist who met with Hassanpour last week told CPJ.

A local journalist told CPJ that although Hassanpour is no longer at risk of being hanged, he could face up to 20 years in prison, a sentence commonly given after a commuted death sentence.

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. He had mostly written about poverty and other social issues. On January 25, 2007, he was arrested by security agents in his hometown of Marivan, in Kurdistan province, according to news reports and international human rights organizations.