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A street in Tehran is seen on April 21, 2020. Iranian journalist Hassan Fathi recently began a jail term for speaking with the BBC. (AFP/Atta Kenare)

Iranian journalist Hassan Fathi begins 1.5 year jail term over BBC interview

May 13, 2020 4:20 PM ET

Washington, D.C., May 13, 2020 -- Iranian authorities should release journalist Hassan Fathi from prison and cease arbitrarily jailing members of the press, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On May 6, Fathi, a freelance columnist and former editor of the Iranian daily Ettelaat, began an 18-month prison term in Tehran’s Evin Prison after his appeal in a 2018 criminal case for speaking with the BBC Persian service was denied, according to a report by the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), a U.S.-based outlet that covers news in Iran.

“Iranian authorities must stop their absurd practice of imprisoning journalists solely for speaking to foreign media outlets, especially during a pandemic, when any jail term could be a potential death sentence,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour. “Hassan Fathi should be released immediately and the charges against him should be dropped.”

Authorities arrested Fathi on May 26, 2018, after he gave an interview with the BBC’s Persian service about the reelection of President Hassan Rouhani, according to an interview with Fathi by U.K.-based broadcaster Iran International. During his detention, the Revolutionary Court of Tehran charged him with “spreading lies and disrupting public opinion,” and then released him on bail on June 2, 2018, Fathi told the broadcaster.

His case was pending in Iran’s courts until May 2, 2020, when the Tehran Appeals Court rejected his final appeal and ordered him to begin serving his sentence, according to HRANA. CPJ could not determine exactly when Fathi was originally convicted or sentenced.

Authorities previously detained Fathi after he was interviewed by the BBC in 2011, according to CPJ research. He was held for 85 days and then released without charge, he told Iran International, saying that authorities’ allegations concerning the 2018 interview contained much of the same information from the 2011 case.