Washington, D.C., February 3, 2020 – Iranian authorities should immediately drop the false news and defamation charges against the editors of three news outlets, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Yesterday, Branch 6 of Tehran’s Media Court, which is under the judiciary, found three local editors-in-chief–of the semi-official Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA), the Bultannews news website, and the energy news website NeftEMA–guilty of “spreading false news and defamation,” according to reports by the official judicial news agency Mizan and by the Human Rights News Agency, a website run by Iranian exiles. Neither the court nor the news reports disclosed the names of the editors.
Ahmad Momenirad, the spokesperson of Iran’s Media Court system, did not disclose any details surrounding the cases or the potential sentences the editors may receive, according to the Mizan report.
CPJ could not determine whether the journalists are being held in custody.
“If the Iranian government has a credible case against the editors of ISNA, NeftEMA, and Bultannews, they should try them openly and publicly,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “Closed door trials of journalists cannot be considered fair or impartial and the Iranian judiciary has a history of holding opaque judicial proceedings that lack credibility.”
Mizan quoted Momenirad as saying that the ISNA and Bultannews editors were eligible to be spared from sentencing, but he did not explain why.
According to a report by ISNA, the case is related to a complaint filed by the National Iranian Gas Transmission Company, a subsidiary of the Iran Oil Ministry, against NeftEMA, accusing the website’s editor-in-chief of “spreading misinformation, defamation, and insult.”
In 2019, Iranian authorities sentenced journalists to years in jail on charges of spreading misinformation and disturbing public opinion, as CPJ documented at the time. Iran had 11 journalists in jail at the time of CPJ’s most recent prison census on December 1, 2019.