A woman clad in mask due to COVID-19 walks past a newspaper stall in Iran's capital Tehran on August 15, 2020. An Iranian journalist was ordered to pay a fine over his coronavirus reporting. (AFP)

Two Iranian journalists convicted on false news charges and ordered to pay cash fines

On August 13, 2020, Aman Mohammad Khojmali, a freelance journalist from the ethnic Turkman minority, was convicted of spreading false news and was ordered to pay a cash fine by Branch 102 of the Judiciary in an appeals court hearing in Gonbad-e-Kavus, a city in the northeast of Iran, according to news reports. The fine was 20 million rials (US$476); with currency devaluation in Iran it is a prohibitive amount on the average journalist’s salary. 

Khojmali was initially arrested on February 9 in his home in a suburb of Gonbad-e-Kavus after publishing several articles in local publications about topics deemed sensitive by security and intelligence forces such as the country’s economic crisis and Qasem Soleimani, the Iranian general killed in a U.S. drone strike in January 2020, according to the reports. The report did not specify in which publications Khojmali published the articles.

The journalist was released on bail ahead of his first trial, according to the reports, which did not specify the date of that hearing. 

CPJ could not locate contact information for authorities in Gonbad-e-Kavus.

In a separate court proceeding on August 16, the appeals court in the western Kermanshah Province convicted Amir Babaei, a freelance reporter, of spreading false news and ordered him to pay a cash fine of 36 million rials (US$857) according to a report by the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), a U.S.-based outlet that covers news in Iran.

The journalist was appealing a decision in a previous case in April 2020 in which he was sentenced to two months in prison for spreading propaganda and false news after the office of Kermanshah’s governor filed three lawsuits against him due to his reporting, as CPJ documented. The Tehran Journalists Association, which reported on the case at the time said Babaei was targeted due to his reporting on coronavirus; the association did not say where his reporting appeared.  

The August 16 decision downgraded the prison sentence to a fine, according to the HRANA report. 

CPJ’s phone call to the Kermanshah governor’s office went unanswered. CPJ was unable to locate contact information for either journalist.