Targeted for her hard-hitting reports on the treatment of political prisoners and her coverage of the death of blogger Sattar Beheshti, Saba Azarpeik was detained between May and August 2014.
Name: Saba Azarpeik
Career: Parliamentary correspondent for daily newspaper Etemad and journalist for the weekly Tejarat-e Farda.
Charges: Propaganda against the regime and ties to foreign media.
Saba Azarpeik has been targeted for her controversial, hard-hitting reports and interviews about prisoners being beaten in Evin Prison. As the parliamentary reporter for Etemad, she reported accounts of the April 2014 raid on Evin’s Cell Block 350 directly to MPs, who then pursued the matter in parliament. Her reports on the death of Sattar Beheshti, the blogger who died under torture in police custody in 2012, raised her profile and led to security forces filing of a complaint against her.
Iran’s hardliners were further angered when Azarpeik published frank and thorough interviews with Mohammad Sadegh Kooshky, reputed to be a media analyst for the Intelligence Ministry, and Ali Akbar Javanfekr, media consultant to former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and former head of official news agency IRNA.
Azarpeik was first arrested on 28 January 2013 with a group of other reporters, including journalists working for reformist-leaning publications Shargh, Arman, Bahar, Aseman and Etemad, for which Azarpeik worked. Security agents raided Azarpeik’s home at 8:00 pm. They did not present her with an arrest warrant, so she resisted and closed the door. Agents then broke down her door, searched the house, physically assaulted her and arrested her. They presented her with a warrant only after she was in detention. She was released on bail in early March 2013.
Azarpeik and the other arrested journalists were charged with communicating with foreign media, including the BBC. A week prior to the arrests, Iran’s Attorney-General Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei declared that authorities were in possession of “information from reliable sources” that journalists were working for both Iranian and foreign media—implying that they passed on crucial information to international outlets. The government should not be criticized for arresting individuals guilty of such obvious crimes.
Azarpeik was arrested for a second time on 28 May 2014 outside her home. Agents did not present a warrant. They took her to the offices at the weekly publicationTejarat-e Farda and confiscated two computers, one of which belonged to a colleague. She was then taken to a detention center.
During her detention, Azarpeik was only allowed to make two short phone calls to her family. Her mother, Akram Mohammadi, was allowed to see her for a brief time on July 21. “I saw her for a few minutes with the permission of Judge Moghisei,” the Mohammadi told IranWire. “She had a high fever. That heat is still burning through me.”
No government agency took responsibility for the arrest and authorities never informed Azarpeik’s family or the public of the charges against her. Azarpeik’s lawyer, Mahmoud Alizadeh Tabatabaei, stated that though he has not been officially informed of any charges, Evin Prison’s prosecutor’s office told him that she was charged with “propaganda against the regime”.
A week after Azarpeik was arrested, Tehran MP Ali Motahari said that the Islamic Republic Judiciary was responsible for her arrest. But according to the journalist’s mother, the detention center used by the judiciary was under construction, so she was kept in solitary confinement at the Revolutionary Guards’ detention center.
When asked by reporters about her condition, President Hassan Rouhani promised to look into the matter but his promise was never fulfilled.
Eyewitnesses who saw Azarpeik at Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court on July 26 said she had lost significant amounts of weight and appeared very pale, a condition they attributed to the long period she was kept in solitary confinement.
According to Azarpeik’s lawyer, two cases were brought against her, one which went to court. There was no indictment issued for the second case and therefore it remained with prosecutors. Her lawyer, Mahmoud Alizadeh Tabatabaei, told IranWire that he did not attend the court hearing for the first case, as he was not listed as the lawyer handling it. As a result, he said, “she was not represented by a lawyer.”
Azarpeik’s mother created a Facebook page to post news about her daughter but two days after the page went live she received threats stating that the conditions in which Azarpeik was being held would become harsher and her condition would deteriorate if she continued her reports. After that, she refrained from publishing Facebook posts about her daughter. “I never expected they would take a daughter hostage and then threaten her mother, informing her that her child’s life is in danger,” she said.
Saba Azarpeik was finally released on August 21 2014.