Pouyan Khoshhal, a reporter with the Iranian reformist newspaper Ebtekar, was arrested on October 24, 2018, at Tehran’s international airport while waiting to board an international flight, according to an October 25 report by the official news agency of Iran’s judiciary, Mizan, and an October 31 report by the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran.
In an article published on October 21 in Ebtekar, Khoshhal warned Iranian pilgrims who journey on foot to the neighboring Iraqi city of Karbala about the danger of preventable diseases along the way. In the article, Khoshhal noted that Iraq “may not be fully in line with universal health standards.”
According to Mizan, Khoshhal’s article created “a huge wave of criticisms and protests” for referring to the “death” of Imam Hussein, Shi’ite Islam’s Third Imam, instead of using the Iranian regime’s preferred phrasing, “martyrdom.” Mizan reported that he was arrested on charges of “insulting the divinity of Imam Hussein and other members of the prophet’s blessed household” for using the incorrect term. CPJ was unable to confirm that “insulting the divinity of Imam Hussein and other members of the prophet’s blessed household” is his final charge.
Since Khoshhal’s arrest, his October 21 article appears on Ebtekar’s website with a correction to the term "martyrdom" in reference to the Third Imam.
Mizan also said in its report that investigations showed that Khoshhal had previously insulted religious figures on social media. Khoshhal’s Twitter account has social and cultural content that is critical of Iran’s ruling system, according to a CPJ review of the account.
On October 22, a day after Khoshhal’s original article was published, Ebtekar announced the termination of his employment contract, the Iranian diaspora news website IranWire reported on October 25, quoting the paper’s editor-in-chief, Reza Dahaki. According to the October 31 report by the Center for Human Rights in Iran, Dehaki also issued an apology, saying the wrong word was used by mistake.
According to an October 25 report by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Tehran’s prosecutor, Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, said on October 24 that the journalist would face prosecution for "pieces of content" that insulted Imam Hussein. Dolatabadi did not explicitly name Khoshhal in his remarks.
Conservative publications such as Kayhan and hardline politicians are calling for the toughest punishment against Khoshhal, according to Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty.
According to article 513 of Iran’s Islamic Penal Code, “insulting the Islamic sanctities or any of the Imams or [the daughter of Prophet Muhammad] is punishable by execution if the insult constitutes speaking disparagingly of Prophet Muhammad. Otherwise, it is punishable by imprisonment for from one to five years.”
As of late 2018, CPJ was unable to determine where he is being held, the exact charges against him, the date of his trial, or his health status.