Iranian journalist Masoud Kazemi is imprisoned in Evin prison, serving a four-and-a-half-year prison sentence on anti-state and false news charges. Kazemi, the editor-in-chief of the monthly magazine Sedaye Parsi, has been imprisoned since May 22, 2019, when a judge announced new charges against him and set high bail; because Kazemi could not afford to pay, he was taken into custody immediately. He was found guilty in June, and his sentence was upheld by the appeals court in August.
Kazemi, who covers political and cultural news for Sedaye Parsi along with serving as its editor-in-chief, was first arrested on November 5, 2018, after security forces raided his home in the capital, Tehran, according to the U.S.-based Iranian rights group Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) and a tweet by his fiancé, Shima Tadrisi.
According to the same tweet by Tadrisi, Kazemi was not notified about the reason for his detention. His lawyer, Ali Mojtahedzadeh, was able to post bail the next day, and he was released, the U.S.-based news website Zeitoon reported.
The raid and his arrest followed Kazemi posting a thread of tweets the day before alleging corruption in Iran’s Ministry of Industry, according to HRANA.
Kazemi’s personal Twitter account was suspended in the wake of his arrest; CPJ could not determine the exact date of its suspension. His account had over 22,000 followers before its suspension, according to a screenshot of the page.
On May 22, 2019, Kazemi arrived at the Tehran Revolutionary Guard Corps Branch 28 court to stand trial on anti-state propaganda charges stemming from his Twitter criticism of Iran’s Ministry of Industry, according to news reports.
At the trial, Judge Mohammad Moghiseh announced new charges, including “acting against national security and colluding against national security,” and set a bail of 10 billion rials (US$237,500), Kazemi’s lawyer, Mojtahedzadeh, told the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) on May 22. Kazemi was also charged with spreading propaganda against the system, false news, and insulting the Supreme Leader and other officials in the preliminary hearings, his lawyer told IRNA on June 3.
Kazemi earns about $150 per month, a person close to him who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity said. Unable to pay the bail, Kazemi was detained at Evin prison until his trial on the new charges, the person said.
The person who asked not to be named told CPJ, “The judge started insulting Kazemi from the beginning of the trial session rather than actually doing any legal work” and never conducted the trial on the propaganda charges.
Kazemi pleaded not guilty and his lawyer had a week to submit his defense before the judge announced the final sentence, according to the May 22 IRNA report.
On June 3, Judge Moghiseh found Kazemi guilty on national security charges of spreading misinformation and insulting the Supreme Leader and other Iranian officials, and sentenced him to four and a half years in prison followed by a two-year ban from working as a journalist, according to news reports.
The appeals court upheld Kazemi’s sentence without holding a trial session, Kazemi’s lawyer said in a tweet on August 7.
Kazemi’s verdict was officially announced to him on October 28, five months after he was taken to prison, his lawyer, Mojtahedzadeh, told IRNA that day.
Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, recently issued an order to the head of the judiciary, Ebrahim Raisi, that courts throughout the country eliminate the appeals process for political prisoners accused of anti-state crimes, effectively upholding all initial verdicts, according to HRANA. HRANA reported on August 22, 2019, that Gholamhossein Esmaeili, Iran’s judiciary spokesman, wrote a letter to all appeals court judges on July 21 to that effect.
Kazemi’s arrest and conviction are part of a broader crackdown by the administration of President Hassan Rouhani on journalists who cover alleged financial corruption by government officials, according to news reports and CPJ research.
Reformist Iranian lawmaker Parvaneh Salahshouri, who often speaks out for press freedom in Iran, voiced her support for Kazemi on Twitter, writing on her personal account on August 8–which is “Journalists’ Day” in Iran and the day after Kazemi’s sentence was upheld — that “those who write the truth are being punished and because of writing the slightest criticism, they go to prison. It’s so bitter to congratulate them today. While those who write lies, are being rewarded.”
Kazemi is at Evin prison, according to a person close to him who spoke to CPJ condition of anonymity. The person said Kazemi is in good health despite his difficult prison conditions.
CPJ was unable to contact Iran’s Ministry of Justice or the judiciary of Tehran province via their websites, which were not functioning. CPJ could not locate an email address, website, or phone number for Evin prison. CPJ emailed Iran’s mission to the United Nations in October 2019, but did not receive a response.