Iranian journalist Sina Entesari was arrested in February 2018 for covering religious protests for the Majzooban-e-Noor website, which covers news about the Gonabadi Dervishes, a Sufi splinter group. Entesari, a news director of the site, is serving a seven-year sentence on anti-state charges in the Greater Tehran Penitentiary. Tehran’s Appeals Court upheld his sentence in March 2019.
Entesari, a contributor and one of the news directors of the Sufi news website Majzooban-e-Noor, was arrested on February 19, 2018, while he was covering the violent dispersal of religious protests in Tehran, according to the Amsterdam-based Iranian media outlet Radio Zamaneh.
The clashes–which broke out between Tehran’s security forces and members of a Sufi-splinter group, 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.
In mid-August, Entesari was sentenced to seven years in prison, 74 lashes, two years in exile, a two-year ban on political and social media activities, and a two-year ban on leaving Iran, according to Human Rights Watch and Radio Zamaneh. The charges against him included "conspiracy to act against national security," "disturbance in the order" and "rebellion against the police," Radio Zamaneh said. Radio Zamaneh quoted Judge Abolgasem Salavati as saying that Sina Entesari was "one of the main directors of Madjzooban’s illegal site."
Entesari refused to attend the 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, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.
Entesari’s father, citing eyewitnesses, told Majzooban-e-Noor on September 29, 2018, that his son had suffered injuries during an attack by prison guards at the Greater Tehran Penitentiary; he did not provide details about the injuries.
On October 17, 2018, Majzooban-e-Noor‘s Twitter account said that Entesari was among eight Dervishes who had been separated from other prisoners for 50 days; the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran reported on September 19 that the group was sent to solitary confinement for taking part in a sit-in protest at the Great Tehran Penitentiary. He and the rest of the group were kept in solitary confinement for 105 days before being transferred back to the public ward, the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) reported on December 13, 2018.
In an open letter in December 2018, 23 Gonabadi Dervishes, including Entesari 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.
In October 2019, CPJ emailed Entesari’s family to inquire about his health in prison, but the family did not immediately respond.
More than 70 imprisoned Gonabadi Dervishes–including Moradi 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.