Saharkhiz, a prominent Iranian journalist, was arrested on November 2, 2015, for “insulting the Supreme Leader,” and “propaganda against the regime,” his son Mehdi told CPJ.
The next day, local media outlets with close ties to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps reported that five local journalists had been arrested for being part of an “infiltration network” with links to Western countries. The news website Rah-e-Dana quoted an unspecified source in identifying one of the journalists as Issa Saharkhiz.
The day before his arrest, Saharkhiz who contributed to the opposition website Rooz Online, had published a Facebook post in which he accused a representative of Iran’s Supreme Leader as attempting to interfere in Iran’s coming elections.
Authorities did not publicly state what activity led to the journalist’s arrest.Mehdi Saharkhiz told CPJ that he believes his father was arrested because of his pre-election reporting and analysis. Mehdi believes Iran’s Supreme Leader harbors a “personal vendetta” against the journalist, he said. In the last seven years, Saharkhiz has been imprisoned three times, including from 2009 to 2013 on charges of “insulting the supreme leader” and “propagandizing against the state.”
On August 8, 2016, Branch 28 of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court sentenced Saharkhiz to three years in prison on charges of “insulting the Supreme Leader.” On September 19, 2016, the same court reduced his sentence to 21 months, without offering any legal or procedural justification, Mehdi Saharkhiz told CPJ.
On September 30, 2016, local media reported that Saharkhiz had started a hunger strike to protest the authorities’ refusal to grant him a conditional release or a medical furlough. The journalist is on medication for his kidneys and to regulate his blood pressure, and has been treated in hospital during his incarceration. His health further deteriorated in March 2016 as a result of previous hunger strikes, CPJ reported at the time. The journalist’s son told CPJ that authorities refused to release him despite the recommendation of the medical examiner’s office that Saharkhiz be freed on medical grounds.
As of late 2016, Saharkhiz still faced charges in another case for “insulting the head of the judiciary.” According to Iranian newsreports, a jury will rule on this case-making it one of the first high-profile trials to take place under a law passed in June that requires public jury trials for “political crimes,” as distinct from crimes affecting national security, according to news reports.