Washington, D.C., March 23, 2021 — Iranian authorities must release journalist Amir Dehbashi immediately and cease arresting members of the press, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On March 17, security forces in the southwestern province of Bushehr arrested Dehbashi, a freelance reporter, and took him to a regional prison in the provincial capital, also called Bushehr, according to a report by the exile-run Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) and a person familiar with Dehbashi’s case, who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity citing fear of reprisal.
Dehbashi, who publishes his reporting on social media, was detained after publishing a report alleging that the Bushehr provincial governor’s office had engaged in corrupt practices involving a construction project, according to the person familiar with his case.
In response, the governor’s office filed a lawsuit against Dehbashi for defamation and “insulting a government official,” according to HRANA and that person.
“Iranian authorities must free journalist Amir Dehbashi immediately and unconditionally,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour. “Iran’s continued jailing of journalists on vague charges as retaliation for their reporting on social media is an outrageous form of censorship that must end.”
On March 19, the provincial governor’s office issued a statement, republished in local outlets, claiming Dehbashi “is not a journalist, did not work in any local news platforms and only used social media to defame and insult the government officials of the province.”
That statement said that Dehbashi’s case had already proceeded through the courts and that he was arrested to serve a jail sentence. CPJ was unable to determine if or when Dehbashi had attended any court hearings in his case, or what sentence he received.
CPJ was not able to find any of Dehbashi’s social media accounts. The person familiar with his case said that Dehbashi posted frequently about provincial news on Telegram, but said that account was taken down following his arrest.
CPJ emailed the Bushehr governor’s office for comment, but did not receive any response.