Iranian journalist Mostafa Abdi 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. He is serving a 26-year sentence in the Greater Tehran Penitentiary on anti-state charges. Tehran’s Appeals Court upheld his sentence in March 2019.
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, according to a CPJ review of his Twitter account.
The clashes–which broke out between Tehran’s 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 for 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. Instead, in an open letter to the court, he called 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 reported on Twitter 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 that they do not recognize the legitimacy of the court, the group did not appeal their initial sentences, the Majzooban-e-Noor website reported on March 12, 2019. The appeals court therefore upheld their verdicts, according to Majzooban-e-Noor and multiple reports in the media and from family members of the detained Dervishes. CPJ could not confirm the exact date of the 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.
More than 70 imprisoned Gonabadi Dervishes–including Abdi and five other Majzooban-e-Noor journalists–announced a hunger strike on November 2, 2019, to protest the treatment of their 92-year-old leader, Noor Ali Tabandeh, who has been under house arrest since February 2018, according to a November 9 video posted on Twitter by BBC Persian service and two family members who spoke to CPJ but asked to remain anonymous due to security concerns.
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 the Greater Tehran Penitentiary. CPJ emailed Iran’s mission to the United Nations in October 2019 for comment on the cases of the six Majzooban-e-Noor journalists, but did not receive a response.