Print and online journalist; currently an editor for BBC Persian


Acting against national security
Interviews with foreign media

Date of Birth



In exile

Sina Motalebi In exile

Sina Motalebi, a print and online journalist, was arrested in April 2003 in connection with his blogs and was charged with activities against national security after he gave interviews to foreign media. He spent 23 days in solitary confinement in a secret detention center before he was released on bail. During his detention he was held incommunicado and had no access to a lawyer. He left Iran in December 2003 and is currently an editor for BBC Persian.

On December 1, 2002, journalist Sina Motalebi posted an article on his blog about the trial of Hashem Aghajari, a university professor who was sentenced to death in November 2002 after he criticized aspects of Iran's clerical rule. Between January and April 2003, judiciary officials summoned Motalebi numerous times. Motalebi told Human Rights Watch (HRW) he was repeatedly interrogated about his posts that raised awareness about detained and imprisoned writers. Judiciary agents told him that these posts amounted to "disturbing the public opinion" and "propaganda against the judiciary."

On the evening of April 19, 2003, judiciary agents contacted Motalebi and told him he must report to their offices the next morning. On the morning of April 20, Motalebi presented himself at Imam Khomeini Judicial Complex in Tehran, where he was promptly detained on the order of Judge Jafar Saberi Zafarghandi. He was the first Iranian to be arrested for the content of his blogs.

Judiciary agents detained Motalebi in a secret location in solitary confinement. Held in a small room, he was repeatedly interrogated about his blog posts and accused of "acting against national security." His interrogator asked him to "list all illegitimate and illegal activities that you have ever committed including all your communications and connections with counter-revolutionary forces abroad."

While he was in detention, the BBC reported that bloggers around the world had joined together to support Motalebi by setting up an online petition for his release. At the time it was also reported that he could even face manslaughter charges for “helping a foreign broadcaster film street prostitutes in Tehran" that “shamed some of them into committing suicide.”

Although no charges had been formally brought against him, the judiciary only released Motalebi on May 12, 2003, after 22 days in detention and only after he posted a bail of 30 million tomans, around $37,500 at the time. In December 2003, Motalebi and his family left Iran for the Netherlands, seeking asylum.

Revenge by the Judiciary

But even then the Iranian judiciary did not leave him alone. In June 2004, he recalled his experiences in prison at a joint press conference held by Human Rights Watch and Reporters without Borders. The judiciary responded by arresting his father, Saeed Motalebi, a retired filmmaker, on September 8, 2004. Judiciary agents charged him with "assisting the escape of an accused person," an apparent reference to his son's departure from Iran, despite the fact that Sina Motalebi had left Iran legally. "The arrest of Saeed Motalebi, 62, aimed at silencing his son, Sina, an Iranian journalist who has sought exile in Europe, is a despicable act", Reporters without Borders announced. "We call on the Iranian judicial authorities to end this shameful blackmail."

Saeed Motalebi was detained for 10 days in a secret detention center before being released.

In June 2005, Human Rights Watch announced that it had awarded Hellman/Hammett grants to five Iranian journalists including Sina Motalebi. “Each year,” a statement said, “Human Rights Watch awards Hellman/Hammett grants to writers targeted for expressing views that the government opposes, for criticizing government officials or actions, or for writing on topics that the government does not want reported.”

Sina Motalebi currently lives in London and works with BBC Persian as an editor.


Updated: March 24, 2018



بازداشت سينا مطلبي روزنامه نگار و وبلاگ نويس ازديد يك وبلاگ نويس در كانادا, Radio Farda, April 21, 2003

“Bloggers unite to fight,” BBC, May 2, 2003

 “Iranian journalist faces manslaughter charge,”, May 9, 2003

سينا مطلبی آزاد شد, BBC Persian, May 15, 2003

“Three journalists transferred to notorious ‘special wing’ of Evin prison; exiled journalist's father arrested,” IFEX Network, September 14, 2004

“Iranian Writers Awarded Hellman/Hammett Grants,” Human Rights Watch (HRW), June 5, 2005

“False Freedom: Online Censorship in the Middle East and North Africa,” Human Rights Watch (HRW), November 14, 2005

“Iran: A Long and Painful Story of Jailed Bloggers,” Global Voices, December 19, 2008

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