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A man uses his smartphone to follow election news in Tehran, Iran, May 17, 2017. Iran charged four Telegram news channel Gam reporters over labor coverage, it was reported June 11. (Reuters/TIMA)

Iran charges Telegram news channel Gam reporters over labor coverage

June 13, 2019 3:15 PM ET

Washington, D.C., June 13, 2019 -- Iranian authorities should immediately release three reporters for Gam (Step), a Telegram app news channel covering labor issues, and drop all charges against them and one other reporter for the channel, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Details of the charges against the journalists, who were arrested in late December and early January, were reported by the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), which spoke with a source close to one of the reporters' relatives on June 10.

Amirhossein Mohammadifard, Gam's editor-in-chief, and his wife Sanaz Allahyari, a reporter, have been detained in Evin prison without a lawyer since January 9, when they were arrested at their home in Tehran, according to multiple news reports. The couple started Gam, which is distributed via a Telegram channel, in 2016 to report on political, cultural, and labor union issues in Iran. According to a report by CHRI, Allahyari's health is deteriorating in prison but authorities have failed to address her health issues.

Mohammadifard and Allahyari, along with Gam staff reporters Amir Amirgholi and Asal Mohammadi, will be tried on charges of "assembly and collusion against national security," "forming groups with the intention to disturb national security" and "contacts with anti-state organizations" by Judge Abolqasem Salavati in Branch 15 of Tehran's Revolutionary Guards Corps court, according the report by CHRI. No date for the trial has been scheduled yet, according to the report.

"The arrest and detention by Iran's judiciary of journalists who cover events in the public interest, such as labor issues, is unacceptable," CPJ Middle East and North Africa Representative Ignacio Miguel Delgado said from Beirut. "We call on the authorities to immediately release all detained reporters for Gam."

Amirgholi, a Gam staff reporter, was also arrested on January 9 and was initially detained in Evin prison, according to CHRI; however, CPJ was unable to verify his current location. He suffers from diabetes and cannot receive his medicines, including insulin shots, properly in prison, CHRI reported. Amirgholi previously served two and half years in prison on anti-state charges including "insulting the supreme leader"; he was released in May 2017, according to CHRI.

Mohammadi was arrested on December 4, 2018, and charged in connection with her reports about labor ports in the southwestern province of Khuzestan, according to CHRI. She was released on bail on January 5, from Ahvaz prison, according to U.S. Congress-funded Radio Farda and CHRI.

CPJ could not independently verify whether the Telegram channel of Gam is still active. The Iranian government tightened its control on Telegram in May 2017, according to CPJ reporting, and blocked Telegram in May 2018, according to reports. Since then, gathering and spreading news on the app is only possible via the use of virtual private networks (VPNs), according to sources who spoke to CPJ but who asked to remain anonymous for safety reasons.

Eight journalists were found to be imprisoned in Iran in direct relation to their work at the time of CPJ's December 2018 prison census.

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