Iranian journalist Mostafa Abdi is serving a 26-year, 3-month sentence in the Greater Tehran Penitentiary, also known as Fashafouyeh Prison, on anti-state charges. He was arrested in February 2018 while covering religious protests for the Majzooban-e-Noor website, which covers news about the Gonabadi Dervishes, a Sufi splinter group. Despite multiple requests for furlough from the journalist, his family, and his lawyer, Abdi was not granted any temporary release during the coronavirus outbreak.
Iranian security forces arrested Abdi, an editor with Majzooban-e-Noor, on February 20, 2018, while he was covering the violent dispersal of religious protests in Tehran, according to news reports. Abdi tweeted a photo from the protests on February 19.
The clashes—which broke out between Tehran security forces and members of the Gonabadi Dervishes, who were protesting the arrest of one of their members—resulted in six fatalities, including five police officers, and over 300 arrests, according to news reports.
On August 15, a revolutionary court in Tehran sentenced Abdi to 26 years and three months in prison, 148 lashes, two years of exile, a two-year travel ban, and a two-year ban on political and social media activities, according to an August 15 Twitter post by Majzooban e-Noor and an August 20 report by the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran.
Abdi was convicted of "assembly and collusion against national security," "disturbing public order," "disobeying law enforcement agents," and "propaganda against the state," the Center for Human Rights in Iran reported.
According to an August 18, 2018, report on Infosufi, a news website covering the Gonabadi Dervishes, Abdi refused to hire a lawyer at the time of the preliminary trial, signaling that he did not recognize the legitimacy of the Revolutionary Court. The Infosufi report included a copy of Abdi’s full sentence.
Abdi refused to attend the preliminary court session in which he was tried, and instead sent an open letter to the court calling the circumstances of the trial "unfair" and asked for a public trial, U.S. Congress-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.
Majzooban-e-Noor tweeted that Abdi was beaten by security forces at the protests when he was arrested, before being interrogated and detained at the Greater Tehran Penitentiary. CPJ could not independently confirm the allegations of beating.
In an open letter in December 2018, 23 Gonabadi Dervishes, including Abdi and five other Majzooban-e-Noor journalists, wrote “they do not find the Revolutionary Court legitimate and the Appeals Court is just a deceptive show,” CHRI reported on March 16, 2019.
To demonstrate against the perceived illegitimacy of the court, the group did not appeal their initial sentences, Majzooban-e-Noor reported on March 12, 2019. The appeals court therefore upheld their verdicts, according to Majzooban-e-Noor, media reports, and tweets from family members of the detained Dervishes. CPJ could not determine the exact date of the appeal hearing.
Other prisoners beat Abdi and broke his nose, Faezeh Abdipour, the wife of another imprisoned journalist, wrote on her personal Twitter account on June 18, 2019. Abdipour did not provide any further information on whether Abdi was transferred to a hospital or received any medical assistance in the prison clinic.
On February 26, 2020, the head of Iran’s judiciary, Ebrahim Raisi, in a bid to combat the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in Iranian jails, ordered about 70,000 prisoners to be released from custody temporarily, including some political prisoners such as journalists, according to news reports.
Despite the judiciary’s order and multiple furlough requests from Abdi, he remains in Fashafouyeh Prison, a source close to Abdi’s family and familiar with Dervish cases told CPJ in September 2020. According to that person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to fear of government reprisal, Abdi wasn’t furloughed because his sentence is more than five years.
CPJ was unable to contact Iran’s Ministry of Justice or the judiciary of Tehran province via their websites, which were not functioning in late 2020. CPJ emailed Iran’s mission to the United Nations in September 2020 for comment on Abdi and other cases of imprisoned Iranian journalists, but did not receive a response.