The Iranian journalist Fariborz Kalantari was sentenced to three years in prison, flogging and a fine, while the journalist Mahmoud Mahmoudi was arrested and released on bail a few days later. Nazi Oskouei, a publisher, was sent to Evin Prison to serve a one-year sentence, and six Telegram channel administrators and media activists whose identities have not been made public were arrested in Mazandaran province.
On February 6, 2021, Twitter users united to call for the release of Alieh Motalebzadeh, a journalist and women's rights activist: the first of many wrongs that desperately need to be put right.
A Twitter Storm for Alieh Matlabzadeh
Twitter users from Iran and the international human rights community called en masse for the immediate release of journalist and women's rights activist Alieh Motalebzadeh on her birthday, February 6.
Along with Motalebzadeh, the satirist Keyomars Marzban, the Iran Farda editor Keyvan Samimi, the journalist and activist Hengameh Shahidi and the documentary film-maker Mohammad Nourizad are currently serving sentences in Evin Prison. The dissident journalist Ruhollah Zam was executed there last December.
Reporters Without Borders tweeted: "Imprisoned journalist, wife and mother #Alieh_Motalebzadeh, photo-correspondent and vice president of the Association for the Defense of Freedom of the Press has been serving a two-year sentence since October 11, 2020." Motalebzadeh had been convicted of “conspiracy against national security” and “propaganda against the regime”.
The journalist Mira Ghorbanifar tweeted: "Happy birthday dear #Alieh_Motalebzadeh! The jailer who locked you up doesn’t know the meaning of light, freedom, woman or imagination. The one who comes to us through the walls is you, and the jailer is the one who will be imprisoned forever."
Another journalist, Taraneh Bani Yaghoub, tweeted: "This has always been the question for me: in the current situation, what is the real danger of Alieh Motalebzadeh to the country, that has made you imprison her?"
Motalebzadeh began her career in the 1990s, as a photographer for a women's magazine edited by the prominent feminist Shahla Sherkat. After that she worked for various different publications and some of her photographs went on to achieve significant acclaim, such as those of the 1999 Tehran University student protests and one image of human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh hugging her husband in handcuffs in front of the Bar Association building.
Journalist Sentenced for Writing About Corruption
Journalist Fariborz Kalantari announced on Twitter on February 5 that he had been sentenced to three years in prison, 74 lashes and a fine for writing articles on his Telegram channel about economic corruption involving Mehdi Jahangiri, the brother of Vice President Eshagh Jahangiri. This should not have been controversial: judiciary spokesperson Gholamhossein Esmaili announced on January 26 that Mehdi Jahangiri, who was formerly vice president of Tehran Chamber of Commerce, had been convicted of "currency smuggling."
But Kalantari was convicted of “insulting ordinary people” and “defamation”. He sarcastically described his sentence as "a perfect example of the administration of justice" in the time of Ebrahim Raeesi, the head of the judiciary.
Telegram Administrators Arrested
On February 3 the chief of the FATA cyber police of Mazandaran province announced that six administrators of Telegram channels had been arrested. In an interview with Fars News Agency, which is affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards, Sameh Khorshad said: "These people, who were active in the media, published false news on enemy channels… The detainees acted as 'admins' in these channels, and there is a possibility that the number of arrests will increase."
The police chief did not name the “enemy” channels or the arrested administrators. But he did say that one of them was a member of Mazandaran Press House.
Meanwhile, Nazi Oskouei, editor-in-chief of Nashr-e Digar, has been transferred to Evin Prison to begin serving her one-year prison sentence for “propaganda against the regime”. Oskouei's collaboration with the Writers' Association of Iran was cited as an example of this “propaganda”.
Oskouei, along with her husband Ali Akbar Amini and their son Yashar Amini, were all arrested in 2012 on the same charges and their publishing license was revoked. Now, years later, their one-year prison sentence has been upheld. Oskouei’s husband and son had already been summoned to Evin Prison before her.
Perhaps the only good news in the field of journalists’ rights this week was that Mahmoud Mahmoudi, a journalist and editor of the weekly Agrin Roje in Sanandaj, had been temporarily released. Mahmoudi was arrested by security agents at his home on January 3, and was released on February 4 on 200-million-toman (US$8,000) bail pending trial. Mahmoudi is a member of the board of directors of Kurdistan Press House.
The journalist is one of the signatories to a letter from civil and religious activists calling for the release of dozens of people recently detained in Kurdish cities. However, the official reason for his arrest and charges are still unknown.