Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the Iranian regime’s latest steps to reinforce online censorship, in which two journalists who use social networks have just received harsh sentences – a long jail term in one case and flogging in the other.
The victims include Amir Hossein Miresmaili, a journalist with the daily newspaper Jahan Sanat (Industry World). He was sentenced to ten years in prison on 22 August for a tweet indirectly criticizing Ayatollah Sayyid Ahmad Alamolhoda, a fundamentalist mullah who is Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s representative in the city of Mashhad.
According to Miresmaili’s lawyer, a Tehran criminal court convicted him of “insulting the sacredness of Islam,” “insulting government agents and officials,” “publishing false information designed to upset public opinion” and “publishing immoral articles contrary to public decency.” He was also sentenced to a two-year ban on journalistic activity on social networks on completing the jail term.
In his tweet, Miresmaili had tried to suggest that Shia Islam’s Eighth Imam, also known as Imam Reza, was not a fundamentalist and was like today’s young people. He said the Imam “ate chips and yoghurt and was therefore like us.” He was arrested on 23 April, shortly after posting the offending tweet, and was freed on bail 24 hours later. His apologies failed to prevent the trial from going ahead.
“This utterly excessive sentence is clearly designed to intimidate journalists active on social networks,” said Reza Moini, the head of RSF Iran/Afghanistan’s desk. “Afflicted by corruption and the current crisis, the Islamic Republic is using all possible means to silence independent media voices. But it is precisely its censorship of the media, control of Internet content and arrests of journalists – in other words, the policy of suppressing media freedom in effect since the 1979 revolution – that is one of the causes of this crisis.”
After his release on bail in April, Miresmaili was arrested again on 12 July because of a tweet about assistance provided by the Imam Khomeini Relief Foundation to Palestinians in Gaza during the month of Ramadan. He had been freed on bail for a second time on 10 August.
The latest crackdown’s targets also include Ejlal Ghavami, an independent journalist and human rights defender in Sanandaj, in the northwestern province of Kurdistan, who has been accused of “publishing false information designed to upset public opinion” by posting three articles on social networks about prisoners of conscience in Kurdistan province.
After being summoned by the Sanandaj prosecutor’s office on 20 August, he was freed on bail of 20 million toman. No date has so far been set for his trial.
Shoja Hossein Zadeh, a citizen-journalist in Baneh, another city in Kurdistan province, was meanwhile sentenced to 74 lashes by a local criminal court in July on a charge of insulting President Hassan Rouhani in a satirical article accusing him of not keeping his election promises. Zadeh ran the Baneh News channel on the Telegram messaging service.
Hengameh Shahidi, a journalist who has been in the justice system’s sights for the past 18 months, was briefly arrested again when she left hospital at the end of June. The judicial authorities have said nothing about this latest arrest.
On 15 May, a few days after posting several tweets about her time in detention last year, Shahidi tweeted that she had been summoned by the Tehran prosecutor’s office for culture and media for “insulting the head of the judicial system.”
The editor of the Paineveste blog, Shahidi was first arrested on in March 2017. Although very ill, she went on several hunger strikes in protest against her detention and against the conditions in which she was held, and was finally released the following August.
Iran is ranked 164th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index.