Masoud Heydari, the news director of the Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA), and Hamid Haghjoo, the manager of its Telegram channel, were arrested on 24 April for allegedly insulting “Islam’s sacred principles” and religious leaders in a cartoon that was posted on ILNA’s Telegram channel for a few minutes on the evening 23 April and was then quickly deleted.
The cartoon showed a patient between two traditional healers. One wants to administer violet oil to him rectally. The other wants him to drink camel’s urine. In a photo on the wall in the centre, there is a mullah dressed as a nurse who resembles Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. He is signalling to the patient to say nothing.
It was clearly mocking Iranian clerics who recently recommended traditional “Islamic medicine” to treat the coronavirus, including a mysterious liquid called the “prophet’s perfume” and violet oil that is administered rectally on cotton wool. ILNA later issued a statement denying that it ever published the cartoon on its Telegram channel.
Heydari and Haghjoo were arrested on the behest of the Tehran prosecutor’s office on a charge of “insulting the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader.” Heydari was later released on bail but Haghjoo is still being held.
“At least 18 journalist and citizen-journalists have been arrested in various parts of Iran since mid-February, when the first Covid-19 cases were officially announced,” said Reza Moini, the head of RSF’s Iran desk.
“In a country where the regime is ready to do anything to conceal the reality of the Covid-19 epidemic and, in particular, the real number of cases and deaths, making fun of imaginary remedies, some of which could even be harmful, is as dangerous as providing independent coverage of the crisis.”
Iran has just fallen three places in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index and is now ranked 173rd out of 180 countries