The managing editor of Baloutestan, a socio-cultural digest focused on the Zagros Mountains area, has been sentenced to six months in prison and an eight-million-toman (US$252) cash fine for publishing so-called “fake news”.
Mohammad Basati had criticized the performance of the state-backed Relief Committee in the city of Koohdasht, Lorestan province. These local bodies are expected to support the poor and needy through regular stipends and loans.
The Committee duly lodged a complaint accusing Basati of “spreading lies in Baloutestan magazine”. In the final verdict, published by the judiciary on Wednesday, a judge found Basati had “published fake news on WhatsApp he had been unable to prove”.
Basati’s is one of at least six cases filed against journalists in the city of Koohdasht in the past month, stoking fears of an emerging culture of hostility toward members of the press.
In a bid to calm the situation, on August 8 the governor of Lorestan, Farhad Ziviar, told local government officials to stop filing “insult, defamation or disinformation” in deference to Iran’s National Journalists’ Day.
The event – somewhat redundant in a country RSF’s World Press Freedom Index currently ranks at 178th out of 180 surveyed – was created to honor the memory of the Iranian reporter Mahmoud Saremi, who was killed by the Taliban in 1998 along with eight diplomats.
Despite the existence of a specialized Culture and Media Court in Iran, Basati was tried in an ordinary court in Koohdasht. Last November, the same court – and the same judge – handed down a 27-month jail sentence and two-year ban from working in the media to Sina Ghalandari, a reporter who covered the “honor killing” of a 14-year-old girl by her seminary student husband.