It appears that Iranian journalists just can’t get a break. In the latest of a string of arrests and convictions, Judge Mohammad Moghiseh has sentenced the reformist journalist Soroush Farhadian to one year in prison in connection with his political campaign work in 2016 and 2017. Moghiseh has been responsible for the human rights violations of a number of defendants who have come before Revolutionary Courts, including journalists, civil activists, and people from the Baha’i religious minority and ethnic minorities. Farhadian’s trial took place at Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court.
Prior to this, on August 12, Sasan Aghaei, deputy editor of the reformist newspaper Etemad, was arrested — for the fourth time. On August 21, security agents arrested Yaghma Fakhshami, a political reporter for the website Deed-e Ban-e Iran (“Iran Watch”) who formerly worked for the banned newspaper Rouzan — for the second time.
It is the second time Farhadian has been sentenced for the same alleged crime. In 2016, Farhadian was charged with propaganda against the regime, threatening national security, “spreading lies” and “insulting the Guardian Council” after he objected to the house arrests of Green Movement leaders following the 2009 presidential election and the popular uprising that followed. The prosecution dropped all charges except for propaganda against the regime, and the Revolutionary Court sentenced him to seven months in prison in September 2016. At the beginning of 2017, the appeals court vacated the prison sentence and sentenced him to a cash fine.
Same Charges, New Sentence
But now an informed source told IranWire, Journalism is Not A Crime's sister website, that Farhadian has been primarily sentenced for the same reasons: he allegedly criticized the Guardian Council, and particularly Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, who is chairman of both the council and the Assembly of Experts, and reported negatively on the house arrests of the Green Movement leaders. The source said his new sentence is in connection with these violations, and not connected to his recent work as editor-in-chief of the reformist magazine Rouberou (“Face To Face”).
During Iran’s February 2016 parliamentary election season, Farhadian campaigned for reformist candidates, delivering speeches in Arak, the capital of Markazi Province, and other cities in an effort to engage voters. Hardliners objected to his speeches, and attacked him extensively, in particular for his criticisms of house arrests and of the Guardian Council, the body that had disqualified many reformist candidates.
A Hand-Copied Verdict
According to Saleh Nikbakht, one of Farhadian’s lawyers, the court did not even provide the original copy of the verdict to his colleague and Farhadian's other lawyer, Saeed Mir Mohammadi; he was only allowed to make a copy of it by hand. Judicial authorities gave him the excuse that the case was a “security” matter, and, as such, said neither the file nor the verdict could be made available.
“What is remarkable,” said Nikbakht, “is that less than three months after his previous verdict was finalized [by the court of appeals], Farhadian has been tried and convicted on the same charge of propaganda against the regime, citing the same evidence as the previous case.” Saeed Mir Mohammadi said the alleged evidence against his client for the new sentence revolve around his campaign speeches, the same evidence that was presented in his previous case.
Nikbakht believes that according to the constitution — as the sole covenant between the people and the government — and the country’s press laws, Soroush Farhadian, as both a citizen and a journalist, has the right to free speech and must be able to express his views candidly. He further said that when Farhadian gave frank answers to Judge Moghiseh’s questions about house arrests, the events of 2009 and the leaders of the reform movement, these were used against his client in the verdict.
Amad News: A New Weapon Against Journalists
The other two journalists, Sasan Aghaei and Yaghma Fakhshami, have been held under “temporary detention” for a period of about three months without any formal charges and the authorities have not allowed their families to visit them in prison or to call them.
Sasan Aghaei was arrested on August 12 at his workplace, the newspaper Etemad, on orders from the Culture and Media Court. After agents searched his house, he was taken to Evin Prison. Ten days after his arrest, Aghaei’s family asked the court to expedite the processing of his case. “We met Sasan at the court the day he was formally arrested,” his mother told Etemad. “He strongly denied that he has broken the law.” But she said that they have not been able to call him or arrange a visit because the authorities told them “the case is at the investigations stage and according to law the accused cannot have personal visits or calls at this stage.”
On October 15, Elias Hazrati, a member of the parliament and the managing editor of Etemad, told Ensaf News [Persian link]: “Five times I have talked to [Aghaei’s] examining magistrate, I have gone to the Media Court to pursue his case…but we have not been able to secure his release.” According to Hazrati, Aghaei is accused of working with the controversial Persian-language website Amad News, but Aghaei has denied the charge.
Amad News’ Telegram channel has an audience of more than 600,000 members. Its website [Persian link] claims Amad News is part of the Green Movement and says its aim is to expose the corruption of the regime and its clandestine activities. Authorities have accused its employees of working for various intelligence agencies, including Israel’s Mossad. Many journalists in Iran do not want to be associated with it.
But now Amad News is being used as a new tool to attack, harass and intimidate journalists. Already established as an “enemy” publication, if a journalist is linked to Amad, he or she can easily be accused of some of the regime’s favorite charges: propaganda against the regime, activities against national security, being members of “infiltration” networks run by hostile powers and “blackwashing” the situation Iran. The site has quickly become a convenient new weapon for meting out old punishments.