Iranian journalist gets long jail term for satirical comments about mullah regime

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is appalled by the 18-year sentence (10 years in prison plus eight years suspended) that an Iranian journalist received on 10 January, in what is the harshest sentence passed on any journalist since protests about Mahsa Amini’s death in police custody began four months ago. He and all of the other journalists imprisoned in Iran must be freed at once, RSF says.

This outrageous sentence was passed on Ehsan Pirbornash, a former editor of the sports magazine Varzesh Ehsan and former satirical commentator for the newspaper Ghanon who had often voiced satirical criticisms of the government and had openly supported the protests about Mahsa Amini’s death. 

Arrested in the northern city of Sari on 28 October and jailed in the nearby city of Qaem Shahr, Pirbornash was convicted by a revolutionary court in Sari on charges of “insulting Islam in a manner deemed blasphemous,” “inciting aggression against the Islamic Republic’s government” and “propaganda against the Islamic Republic’s system.”

“This grossly unjust sentence, the heaviest passed on any journalist since the protests began four months ago, confirms that the Iranian authorities have opted for the harshest possible crackdown,” said Jonathan Dagher, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “This progression from bad to worse must stop. Jailing and gagging journalists will not help to end the current serious crisis. Ehsan Pirbornash must be released along with the dozens of other imprisoned journalists.”

It was Pirbornash’s wife, fellow journalist Behnaz Mirmatoharian, who announced his sentence. In a tweet, she said it had been imposed although the prison doctor had stated in a letter that he was ill and “could not tolerate imprisonment.” The conditions in which he is held in Qaem Shahr prison are appalling and include being confined to a 25-square-metre cell that sometimes contains more than 60 other inmates.

At least 45 journalists have been arrested since the current wave of protests began when Mahsa Amini, a young Kurdish-Iranian women, died in police custody on 16 September following her arrest for being “improperly dressed.” Most of these journalists continue to be held without knowing what they are charged with or when they will be tried.

According to the information gathered by RSF, at least four journalists have so far been tried and convicted after being arrested in connection with their coverage of the protests. 

The photographer Aria Jafari was sentenced to seven years in prison, 74 lashes and a two-year ban on leaving the country after his release. The photojournalist Yalda Moaiery was sentenced to six years in prison, a ban on working as a photographer, and two months of public service after her release. The photojournalist Ahmadreza Halabisaz was sentenced to five years in prison and a ban on practicing his profession. And the reporter Vida Rabbani was given two prison sentences, a six-year one and a 15-month one, after she was convicted on charges of “assembly and collusion against national security” and “anti-government propaganda.”

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