In Iran, series of arrests and prosecutions target journalists

In the first few months of 2014, multiple journalists were arrested, interrogated, and prosecuted in Iran. Authorities pursued a revolving-door policy in imprisoning journalists, freeing some detainees on short-term furloughs even as they make new arrests.

On June 21, 2014, Reihaneh Tabatabei, a journalist who worked for Shargh and Bahar, was summoned to Evin Prison and informed of new charges against her. She was sent to prison to serve a six-month prison sentence on prior charges related to publishing news about the Green Movement, according to reports. The Green Movement is an opposition protest movement that spawned in the aftermath of the 2009 elections, which the movement claims were fraudulent. She was arrested in December 2010 and convicted in April 2012, reports said.

She was accused of insulting conservative officials on Facebook, among other allegations, news reports said. Her trial is ongoing.

Also on June 21, 2014, Iranian journalist and CPJ International Press Freedom Awardee Mashallah Shamsolvaezin received a summons to report for interrogation at Evin Prison, according to news reports. The journalist had returned to Iran after accepting the International Press Institute’s 66th World Press Freedom Hero award in South Africa in April 2014. He had also participated in the Forum for Media Freedom Defenders in Jordan, held by the Center for Defending Freedom of Journalists in May 2014.

On June 28, 2014, Shamsolvaezin wrote on his Facebook page that he was told in court that he had been charged with “propaganda against the state” related to his interviews with media and speeches he gave at two regional and international journalism conferences. He said he was released on bail of 2 billion riyals (approximately US$80,000).

In a June 2014 interview with the U.S.-based magazine The New Yorker, Shamsolvaezin said he kept a toothbrush in his briefcase in case he got arrested.

On June 20, 2014, critical blogger Mehdi Khazali was arrested while on a trip to the north of Iran, according to news reports. Khazali’s son said in an interview with the news website Rooz Online that it was unclear why the journalist had been arrested. It is also not clear if he has been charged.

News reports said the arrest could be in connection with a critical blog post Khazali wrote on June 18, 2014, that accused Ayatollah Mahdavi Kani of corruption and embezzlement. Kani is the head of the Assembly of Experts, the clerical body charged with electing the Supreme Leader. The reports said Khazali began a dry hunger strike upon his transfer to Evin Prison.

Khazali has been imprisoned before for his writing. In February 2012, he was sentenced to 14 years in prison, 10 years in exile, and 90 lashes after being convicted of “insulting the Supreme Leader,” according to rights groups. He was later pardoned. He has often criticized the regime on his blog, according to CPJ research.

On June 19, 2014, the Kerman province prosecutor announced that several staff members of Pat Shargh Govashir, a company that owns the popular Iranian technology news website Narenji and its sister sites, Nardebaan and Negahbaan, had been sentenced to between one and 11 years in prison. The staff members were accused of receiving training from and producing content for the BBC, according to news reports. Iranian authorities have repeatedly accused the BBC of attempting to foment a coup against the Islamic Republic.

News reports said the owner of Pat Shargh Govashir, Ali Asghar Honarmand, was sentenced to 11 years in prison. News accounts reported conflicting details about the identities of another 10 staff members and the exact sentences they received.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, reporting on the original arrest of the staff members in December 2013, likened Narenji to Gizmodo or Endgadget, reviewing the latest cell phone models, mobile apps, and Internet memes.

On June 7, 2014, Iranian documentary filmmaker Mahnaz Mohammadi reported to Evin Prison to begin serving a five-year prison sentence, according to news reports. The government charged Mohammadi with propaganda and collusion against the state, claiming she was cooperating with the BBC, but she denied ever working with the channel, news reports said. She was put on trial in October 2012 and her appeal was denied in October 2013, the reports said.

Mohammadi told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran that her interrogator used her documentary Travelogue as evidence against her, and told her, “When we shape you up, the other documentary filmmakers will get the message.”

In Travelogue, Mohammadi takes a critical look at Iranian society by asking Iranians on a train why they are leaving the country, according to news reports. Mohammadi has also contributed to other documentaries on the status of women in Iran, including Women Without Shadows, Ephemeral Marriage, and We Are Half of Iran’s Population.

Saba Azarpeik, a reformist journalist with the weekly Tejarat-e Farda and daily Etemad, was arrested at the Tejarat-e Farda offices on May 28, 2014, according to news reports. According to Azarpeik’s mother, who posted about the case on Facebook and spoke to the press, Azarpeik was held in solitary confinement for more than three weeks before authorities provided a reason for her arrest and details of her whereabouts. Azarpeik’s mother, who said the regime has pressured her not to speak out, said Azarpeik was held on charges of propaganda against the regime because of her work as a journalist.

The news website IranWire reported that Azarpeik had written a number of articles on how conservatives had attempted to undercut President Hassan Rouhani’s administration. Azarpeik was particularly critical of regime officials on her Facebook page, where she covered, among other topics, the case of Iranian blogger Sattar Beheshti who died in government custody, according to the Guardian. Her Facebook page was no longer available at the time of this writing.

At least two journalists were jailed after returning to Iran from abroad.

On April 21, 2014, security forces arrested Hossein Nouraninejad after he returned from Australia the month before, according to news reports. On June 16, 2014, a court sentenced Nouraninejad, who used to work for the reformist newspaper Norooz, to six years in prison on charges of propaganda and collusion against the regime, the reports said. He was released on bail of nearly US$100,000 the next day.

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran reported without naming its source that Nouraninejad had given several media interviews in support of Rouhani during the presidential election. It is not clear why he has been convicted, but many journalists have been arrested and imprisoned for their work at reformist news outlets.

On May 10, 2014, journalist Serajeddin Mirdamadi was arrested by security forces after returning to Iran in 2013. He had lived in exile in Paris since 2009, according to news reports. Mirdamedi was charged with propaganda and collusion against the regime, according to the reformist news website Kaleme.

He previously worked for reformist newspapers such as Toos and Hayat-e No, and had also contributed to Radio Zamaneh. News accounts did not say if any specific work had led to the charges.