Iran: Increasing pressure on journalists reporting on corruption

UPDATE: On Sunday April 26 2021, Amir Abbas Dehbashi-Nejad was released from the Bushehr prison in Iran. The judicial order for Dehbashi-Nejad’s release was issued after the Governnor-general office of Bushehr province dropped its charges against him.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Credits: AFP

Mahdi Sohrabi, a local reporter in Iran's north-west province of Zanja has been sentenced to more than 13 months jail after reporting on a corruption case in the local government, in a ruling that comes amid increasing judicial harassment on journalists reporting on governmental corruption. The International Federation of Journalist condemns the systematic judicial harassment of Iranian journalists and urges the authorities to revoke all the rulings against them.

The judicial case against Mahdi Sohrabi, a reporter for ‘Sedaye Zanjan’ news website, was launched in 2019 when a member of the Zanjan city council lodged a lawsuit over his reports about corruption in the Zanjan municipality involving some city council members.

In 2020, the district court of Zanjan sentenced Sohrabi to 13 months and 17 days in jail in addition to economic penalties. Charges against him include ‘Spreading lies in cyberspace’ and ‘offence’, after he published pictures of the verdict on his Instagram account and deleted them later.

On April 14 2021, the High Court confirmed the initial ruling against him and banned him from working as a journalist for a year and forced him to make a public apology to the local authorities on media.

This is not an isolated case. According to Iranian media, security and judicial pressures against journalists have increased and judicial actions against media workers are on the rise across the country.

In a similar case, in October 2020, journalist Amir Abbas Dehbashi-Nejad was sentenced to 21 months in prison on charges of "spreading lies to disturb the public opinion" and to 30 lashes on the charge of "insulting government officials." The lawsuit against him was submitted by the Deputy of Bushehr province General office.

In March 2021, the High Court of Bushehr confirmed the ruling and Mr Dehbashi-Nejad was arrested and sent to prison.

Dozens of reporters and journalists in Bushehr province wrote a joint letter to the President of Iran Hassan Rouhani , urging him to cancel the ruling and release journalists in jail.

Securitisation during the pandemic

Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, judicial prosecutions of journalists have increased  in Iran, particularly in the provinces of Golestan and Kermanshah.

In December 2020, the Department of Natural Resources in Golestan lodged a lawsuit against Elahe Mousavi, a veteran environmental journalist, on charges of ‘spreading disinformation’ and ‘offence’ on social media following her reports on the destruction of natural lands and resources in the north of Iran. 

Before her, the Golestan branch of Iran University of Medical Science submitted a lawsuit against Elaheh Ramezanpour, a veteran health journalist, on charges of ‘spreading disinformation’ about the Covid-19 crisis. She actively reported the death toll of the pandemic.  

At the same time in Kermanshah province, Shahram Safari, a Kurd journalist, had faced a judicial case by the local branch of Iran University of Medical Science concerning his reports about Covid-19 deaths and infections.

The IFJ condemns the growing judicial harassment of Iranian journalists who are simply doing their job of informing the citizens about public interest issues. The government must stop immediately the crackdown on media and end its bogus prosecutions against media workers.

For more information, please contact IFJ on +32 2 235 22 16

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 146 countries

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