Iranian regime continues campaign against critical press

New York, May 23, 2012–Iranian authorities have sentenced an editorial cartoonist to 25 lashes, yet another low point in a three-year-long crackdown against the press that also includes two new imprisonments and the suspension of a monthly.

“Subjecting someone to a lashing because they poked fun at the government in an editorial cartoon illustrates the depth of Iran’s intolerance of any form of scrutiny or criticism,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “Authorities need to end their indefinite crackdown on the press and free the many journalists who are being unjustly held for expressing independent views.”

An Iranian court sentenced Mahmoud Shokrayeh to 25 lashes for drawing a cartoon that allegedly insulted Ahmad Lotfi Ashtiani, a conservative member of parliament, according to reformist news websites. The cartoonist, who works for the reformist publication Nameh Amir, based in the central city of Arak, was told of his sentence on May 4. The official filed a lawsuit against Shokrayeh for depicting him in a satirical light, wearing a soccer uniform. Iranian politicians have recently been criticized for meddling in the country’s soccer federation elections, according to news reports.

Reza Ansari Rad, a freelance journalist who has worked for reformist newspapers, was summoned on May 3 to serve a one-year prison term in Evin Prison, according to Iran’s Committee of Human Rights Reporters, a leading organization of journalists who document human rights abuses. In September 2011, a Tehran Revolutionary Court sentenced him to prison for “propagating against the regime,” news reports said. Rad is in poor physical condition and has suffered two seizures over the past two weeks, news reports said.

Mahsa Amrabadi, who works for reformist publications including Etemad-e Melli, was summoned to Evin Prison on May 9 to serve a one-year prison sentence, according to reformist news websites. A Tehran Revolutionary Court had sentenced her in late February to a year in prison and a four-year suspended term on charges of “assembly and collusion against national security,” according to news reports. Her husband, the imprisoned journalist Massoud Bastani, is serving a six-year prison term at Rajaee Shahr Prison, CPJ researchshows.

In a separate case, authorities also suspended a monthly reformist magazine. On April 30, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance sent a letter to Seid Mohammed Mehdi Tabatbai, the editor of Nasimebidar, saying the publication would be suspended for two months. The magazine reported on its website that the letter did not state the reason of the suspension, but that the publication had recently run a cover story of the former reformist President Muhammad Khatami. The letter claimed the magazine violated directives issued by the Supreme National Security Council, the magazine said.

One journalist has been released on bail in Iran. Ehsan Houshmand, who was arrested in early January and accused of “propagating against the regime,” was released on April 25 on bail of US$150,000, according to reformist news websites. He said he suffered an ear injury after being beaten during interrogations, the news reports said.

Iranian authorities have maintained a revolving-door policy for imprisoning journalists, freeing some detainees on furloughs even as they make new arrests. When CPJ conducted its annual prison census on December 1, 2011, Iran was holding 42 journalists in custody, the most in the world.