Iran’s president must be held to account for role in executing journalists in 1988

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who plans to attend the UN General Assembly session opening in New York on Tuesday 13 September, must be held to account for his involvement in the 1988 massacre of thousands of political prisoners, including several hundred journalists, says Reporters Without Borders (RSF), pointing out that, even now, 22 journalists are imprisoned in appalling conditions in Iran.

“After July’s life sentence for Hamid Noury, the first ‘death commission’ member to be put on trial, other members of the commission responsible for the terrible massacres in 1988, including Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, must be brought to justice,” said Antoine Bernard, RSF’s director of advocacy and strategic litigation. “The immunity enjoyed by the president should in no way be synonymous with impunity. He, too, must be accountable to independent justice for the crimes against humanity rightly attributed to him by the UN special rapporteur on Iran.”

Arrested on arrival in Sweden for a visit in 2019, Hamid Noury was sentenced to life imprisonment by a Stockholm court on 14 July. He held a senior position at Gohardasht prison (now called Rajai Shahr prison) near Tehran, when hundreds of prisoners, including journalists, were executed there in 1988.

Nearly 4,000 political prisoners executed in 1988

Now Iran’s president, Raisi was one of the members of the “death commission” that was tasked at the time with interrogating political prisoners. After interrogations by the commission that often lasted no more than several minutes, death sentences were passed on thousands of political prisoners who refused to renounce their beliefs. In the summer of 1988 alone, from July to September of that year, nearly 4,000 political prisoners were executed after previously being given death sentences.

Javaid Rehman, the UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran, said in an interview on 29 June 2021 that there was enough evidence to justify an international investigation into Raisi’s role in those “crimes against humanity” in 1988. But Rehman’s call for an investigation into the role played by the Islamic Republic’s current president has so far gone unheeded.

The Islamic Republic of Iran is one of the world’s most repressive regimes with regard to media personnel, and holds the record for the most journalists sentenced to death in the past 50 years. They include Rouhollah Zam, the editor of the Amadnews channel on Telegram, who was hanged on 12 December 2020 after an iniquitous trial carried out under Raisi’s responsibility.

The list of imprisoned journalists keeps on getting longer. Since the start of August, at least four more journalists have been detained in Iran’s prisons, where the health of inmates usually deteriorates.

Six women jailed for their journalistic activities

Farangis Mazloom, the mother of the 2017 RSF Press Freedom Prize laureate in the citizen-journalist category, Soheil Arabi, was summoned and jailed on 2 August to begin serving the 18-month prison sentence she had received in March 2021 on charges of “meeting and plotting against national security” and “anti-government propaganda.” Her crime was drawing attention to the conditions in which her son is imprisoned and the inhuman and degrading treatment to which he is being subjected. According to information provided by a fellow detainee, the journalist and human rights defender Narges Mohammadi, Mazloom is very ill and, although hospitalised after a heart attack, was returned to her cell the next day.

Hossein Razagh, a journalist who is very active on social media, was arrested in the northern city of Amol on 21 August and was transferred to Tehran’s Evin prison. For the past two years, he has been posting tweets reporting, inter alia, the fact that he is being investigated for spreading “false information disturbing public order.”

Lila Hossienzadeh, a translator and women’s rights activist, was transferred to Evin prison after her arrest in the city of Shiraz on 20 August. Her last tweet was about the arrest of women activists and about her own situation. Tortured after a previous arrest, she is very active on social media and courageously committed to combatting censorship. As she was suffering from an auto-immune disease, she was released from prison last year.

Raha Askarizadeh, a photojournalist and human rights defender, was summoned and detained on 3 September to begin serving the two-year prison sentence she received last year after being arrested in December 2019 and released on bail a month later pending trial. In March 2021, she was notified that she had been sentenced to two years in prison followed by a two-year ban on social media activity and leaving the country.

Two other women photo-journalists, Alieh Motalebzadeh and Noushin Jafari, were jailed last year. Motalebzadeh is serving a three-year sentence and Jafari is serving a five-year sentence. In all, six women are currently imprisoned in Iran for journalistic activities.

Many of the journalists imprisoned in Iran have suffered a decline in both their physical and mental health as a result of the conditions in which they are held. This is especially so with journalists who are elderly. At 73, Kayvan Samimi Behbahani, the editor of the monthly Iran Farda, is one of the world’s oldest imprisoned journalists.

Imprisoned journalists subjected to punishments

Alireza Saghafi, a 69-year-old freelance journalist and member of the Iranian Writers’ Association who used to edit Rah Ayandeh, a magazine closed in 2010, and Naghd Noo, also now closed, has seen his health worsen in prison. And now, to cap it all, a court has just ordered the confiscation of his property.

On 2 September, Kasra Nouri, a journalist imprisoned in the city of Shiraz, was banned from receiving family visits for three days. According to his lawyer, he was questioned and placed under investigation because of a letter he wanted to write with fellow detainees about the situation in the prison.

Nouri has been jailed since 2018 along with Mohammad Sharifi Moghadam, Mostafa Abdi and Abbas Dehghan, three other members of the editorial committee of Majzooban Noor, a website that was the only source of independent news and information about the Sufi order of Gonabi dervishes. And, like the other three, he has not been allowed any of the furloughs to which prisoners are entitled by law in Iran. They were arrested during violent clashes between police and members of the Gonabi dervish community in the north Tehran district of Pasdaran on the night of 19 February 2018.

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