New York, July 16, 2013--Iranian authorities have sentenced seven members of a religious minority news website to lengthy prison terms, and arrested at least three other journalists in an alarming trend that reflects a renewed crackdown on the local press.
"This is a worrisome trend coming so soon after the presidential elections," said Sherif Mansour, CPJ's Middle East and North Africa coordinator. "The Iranian government is squandering an opportunity to open a new chapter that renews the right of free expression."
The Tehran Revolutionary Court on Saturday sentenced seven journalists for the news website Majzooban-e-Noor to a total of 56 years in prison on charges of "forming the illegal Majzooban-e-Noor group with the intent to disrupt national security," "propaganda against the state," "insulting the Supreme Leader," and "participation in disrupting public order," according to news reports. The journalists, who have been imprisoned for almost two years, had refused to appear in court for their trial in protest of what they saw as the court's bias.
Majzooban-e-Noor covers news about the Gonabadi Dervish community. Hamid Reza Moradi Sarvestani, manager of the website, was given 10 years and six months in prison, and Reza Entesari, a photojournalist and also a website manager, was given eight years and six months, according to news reports. The remaining journalists, all of whom are website managers and lawyers--Mostafa Daneshjoo, Farshid Yadollahi Farsi, Amir Eslami, Omid Behrouzi, and Afshin Karampour--were sentenced to seven and a half years in prison.
The journalists were also handed a five-year ban on "membership in groups, parties, sects, and activities in publications, media, and virtual space."
Security forces on Wednesday arrested Fariba Pajooh, according to news reports. Pajooh's mother told the Campaign for Human Rights in Iran that her daughter had called her from prison to tell her she was being held without charge inside the Intelligence Ministry's Ward 209 at Evin Prison in solitary confinement.
Pajouh, who previously worked for reformist outlets, was first arrested following the disputed 2009 presidential election, according to news reports. She was released from prison on bail after 124 days of detention, but was then given a one-year prison sentence on charges of "propagating against the regime," which was later suspended for five years by an appeals court. Pajouh has not worked for any media outlet recently.
Also on Wednesday, police arrested Ali Khodabakhsh, managing director of Shargh, at his office, according to news reports. Khodabakhsh was put in Evin Prison to begin serving his one-year prison sentence on charges of "spreading propaganda against the regime." He was first arrested on December 7, 2010, the reports said.
Another journalist, Fatemeh Kheradmand, was arrested and sentenced on July 3 to one-year prison term, according to news reports. She had been freed on bail after being given the jail term charges of "propaganda against the regime through working for Ghalam-e Sabz Internet magazine," according to news reports. Ghalam-e Sabz has been defunct for four years.
Kheradmand was first arrested in January 2012 and released on bail a month later. She is the wife of Massoud Lavasani, another journalist who was arrested in the aftermath of the 2009 presidential election.
- For more information and analysis on Iran, see CPJ's page here.