Iran charges journalists with ‘lying’

New York, August 25, 2009–The fourth session of the mass trial of more than 100 opposition figures, including journalists, took place in Tehran today. The Committee to Protect Journalists is particularly dismayed by procedural irregularities and the fact that the trial is only open to state-owned media. 

In the aftermath of the country’s disputed June 12 presidential election, Iranian authorities have expelled foreign journalists or severely limited their ability to report independently. They have also arrested dozens of journalists, a number of whom are facing various criminal charges.

In a Revolutionary Court in Tehran today, about 20 people, including journalists, politicians, and academics, were facing charges of misusing “the supporters of defeated candidates to launch a soft coup d’état,” Agence France-Presse quoted a state broadcaster as saying. The defendants, who were described by the court as “a power-seeking defiant movement” that has “stood against the system and the majority vote of the people,” were charged with “lying” and spreading “rumors of fraud in the election,” Iranian state broadcaster Press TV reported. Among the defendants was journalist Massoud Bastani of reformist news Web site Jomhoriyat, the editor-in-chief of the reformist daily Etemad e Melli , Muhammad Ghouchani, Saeed Laylaz of the daily business journal Sarmaia, and Ahmad Zaid-Abadi, who writes a weekly column for reformist news Web site Rooz Online.

The Fars News Agency reported that Bastani testified that Mehdi Rafsanjani, the son of powerful cleric and former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, sought to create “an illusion that there was a fraud in the voting.” Bastani allegedly also said that he “had orders to attack the four-year work of the government, to weaken the Guardian Council … to cast doubt on the election process.” He works for Jomhoriyat, a news Web site affiliated with the defeated reformist candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi; he was detained on July 5.

Bastani’s alleged confession comes on the heels of others that appear to have been coerced. The journalists’ lawyers have been denied access to their clients in prison, and police chief Gen. Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam recently admitted that detainees had been tortured while in custody.

“The government in Tehran seems to have dropped even the pretense of providing defendants with due process,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Mohamed Abdel Dayem. “Iran’s record of coercing confessions from detained journalists is notorious, especially when they are held for extended periods of time without access to legal counsel, as has been the case here.”

Iran remains the world’s leading jailer of journalists with at least 36 behind bars.