Hamid Haghjoo

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Iranian journalist Hamid Haghjoo is being held in pretrial detention on accusations of publishing a cartoon on the Telegram messaging app that allegedly mocked the country’s leaders for their handling of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Haghjoo was arrested on the evening of April 23, 2020, after the Telegram channel of the semi-official Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA), which he administered and where he worked as a reporter, posted the cartoon, according to a report by the exile-run Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA).

On April 27, Tehran Prosecutor General Ali Alghasi-Mehr announced that both Haghjoo and Masoud Heydari, the managing director of the Iranian Labor News Agency, had been arrested the night the cartoon was posted, according to HRANA. The image was deleted minutes after it was posted, according to that report. 

ILNA issued a statement later that night denying that it had ever published the cartoon, and saying the agency was being falsely accused on social media.

Authorities later released Heydari on bail, and said they would hold Haghjoo in custody pending an investigation into the incident, according to news reports. CPJ could not determine exactly when Heydari was released, or whether charges have been filed against either journalist.

The cartoon mocked self-proclaimed Islamic healers who have touted cures for COVID-19. It depicted Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei as a nurse, and mocked Ayatollah Abbas Tabrizian and Mehdi Sabili, both of whom have claimed to have developed treatments for COVID-19, according to reports. The cartoonist’s name was not disclosed in the image itself, ILNA’s statement, or the news reports on the case. 

CPJ emailed ILNA for comment at the time of Haghjoo’s arrest, but did not receive any response. CPJ called Tehran judiciary office on September 17 but the call was unanswered, and its website was inaccessible. 

CPJ emailed Alireza Miryousefi, the head of the media office at Iran’s U.N. mission, in late September to inquire about imprisoned Iranian journalists including Hamid Haghjoo, but didn’t receive any answer.