Dear High Commissioner,
We would like to draw your attention to the appalling conditions in which prisoners of conscience, including many journalists, are held in Iran. This alarming situation needs to be addressed in a swift and decisive manner by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. We urge you, in the international community’s name, to press the Iranian authorities to give the United Nations their unconditional cooperation and to respect their international obligations.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has registered at least 40 arrests of journalists in Iran since the start of 2018. After paying exorbitant sums of money as bail, some were released conditionally pending trial, but 13 of them have been given sentences ranging from three to 26 years in prison. A total of 29 professional and non-professional journalists are currently detained. Iran is one of the world’s most repressive countries as regards media freedom and is ranked 164th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index.
Several UN special rapporteurs have formulated criticisms and recommendations as regards respect for human rights in Iran, especially prisoner rights. RSF points out that denial of medical care to detainees may constitute a flagrant violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is party, as it is of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This form of mistreatment has been the cause of many detainee deaths in Iran.
The prison authorities in Iran are required by the country’s own prison regulations to provide ailing detainees with the necessary medical care. Articles 102 and 103 of these regulations state that “the monthly check-up at the prison infirmary is obligatory” and that “if necessary, the detainee must be urgently transferred from the prison to the hospital.” The regulations also state that the judge is responsible for the safety and health of prisoners with a serious and incurable illness.
An international NGO that defends and promotes journalism, RSF is very concerned about the health of journalists and citizen-journalists held without a fair trial and denied the medical care needed to treat sometimes very worrying illnesses. Five members of the Majzooban Noor website (the only independent source of news about Iran’s Sufi religious minority of Gonabadi dervishes) – Reza Entesari, Kasra Nouri, Mohammad Sharifi Moghadam and the non-professional journalists Sina Entesari and Amir Nouri – were transferred to communal dormitories on 13 November 2018 after 110 days in isolation in Greater Tehran (“Fashapuyeh”) prison, Tehran’s biggest detention centre. During all this time, their families were denied any news of them on the intelligence ministry’s orders. Prison officials had refused to tell the families where these journalists were being held.
Arrested on the night of 19 February, during clashes between police and members of this Sufi community in the north Tehran district of Pasdaran, these journalists refused to participate in an unfair trial and were sentenced in absentia to a combined total of 64 years in prison and 444 lashes.
Saleholldin Moradi, Reza Entesari and his brother, the citizen-journalist Sina Entesari, were sentenced to seven years in prison. Mohammad Sharifi Moghadam, and another member of its editorial committee, Kasra Nouri, were given 12-year terms, while another member of the editorial staff, Mostafa Abdi, was sentenced to 26 years in prison. Three women who worked for the website, Sepideh Moradi, Avisha Jalaledin and Shima Entesari, were previously sentenced by a Tehran revolutionary court on 10 July to five years in prison on charges of “meeting and plotting against national security.”
RSF points out that article 48 of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s code of criminal procedure gives defendants the right to request the presence of a lawyer as soon as they are detained. Exception is made for certain categories of defendants listed in article 302. They include those charged with theft, drug-related offences, organized crime-related offences or crimes against national and international security. They also include journalists. Defendants on this list “must choose a lawyer from the list confirmed by the head of the judicial system.” This is a flagrant violation of articles 9, 10 and 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human rights and article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It also constitutes a grave violation of article 35 of the Iranian constitution.
The Majzooban Noor website journalists are not the only victims of arbitrary arrest and the Iranian justice system’s iniquities. Hengameh Shahidi, the editor of the Paineveste blog, was sentenced to 12 years and nine months in prison at the end of a trial behind closed doors on 1 December 2018. Her clearly intimidated lawyer, Mostafa Turk Hamedani, told the Iranian state news agency IRNA that, “given the confidentiality of the proceedings and the sensitive nature of the case,” he could not disclose details about the court’s verdict. Arrested on 25 June 2018, this journalist was accused of “insulting the head of the judicial system.” She has been held in isolation and denied her basic rights ever since, including the right to visits and medical care.
Mohammad Hossein Heidari, the editor of the Dolat e Bahar news website, was sentenced to three years in prison on 9 December 2018 on charges of “publishing false information designed to trouble public opinion” and anti-government “propaganda.” He has been detained ever since his arrest during a raid on his home on 22 May 2018. His lawyer said he has appealed against his conviction. A supporter of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he was already convicted on the same charges in September, when he was sentenced to 18 months in prison, a fine of 4 million toman and a two-year ban on practicing online journalism.
Saeed Malekpour is another victim of Iranian judicial persecution. He was a website designer living in Canada when he was arrested while visiting his family in Iran in 2008. After his arrest, he was held incommunicado in Tehran’s Evin prison for more than a year and was tortured, according to the information obtained by RSF. He was sentenced to death in November 2010 on a charge of creating “pornographic” websites and “insulting Islam’s sacred principles,” because he had designed a photo-sharing app that was used without his knowledge to transmit pornographic images. His sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment. After suffering a heart attack, he was taken to Tehran’s Taleghani Hospital on 22 October 2018 but was returned to his prison cell just two days later against the advice of the hospital’s doctors. During his ten years in prison, he has never been granted a furlough, whether to visit a doctor or a relative, although Iranian law provides for this.
A journalist and spokesperson for Iran’s Centre for Human Rights Defenders, Narges Mohammadi has been held since May 2015. Sentenced to a total of 16 years in prison on several charges, she is to serve ten years under a 2015 law stipulating that those convicted serve only the sentence for the most serious charge. Now aged 46, she is being denied proper medical attention although very ill. After ten days in hospital, she was returned to prison on 28 August 2018 although still in very poor health. As well as being illegally denied the medical care she needs for the past three years, she has also been denied the right to furloughs although, under Iranian law, all detainees are supposed to get one day of leave a month.
Soheil Arabi, a recipient of RSF’s Press Freedom Prize in the citizen-journalist category in 2017, is a leading example of the regime’s inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners of conscience, including professional and non-professional journalists. After his arrest in Tehran in December 2013, he was isolated and mistreated for two months to force him to confess to involvement in creating a Facebook network that criticized the government and “blasphemed” Islam. A judicial saga ensued in which he was initially sentenced to three years in prison, 30 lashes and a heavy fine. A few months later, he was retried and sentenced to death, but the death sentence was eventually overturned and, in September 2015, he was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison instead.
His wife was detained for eight days in July 2017 and has been harassed and threatened ever since. Arabi’s health has deteriorated alarmingly after repeated hunger strikes and the inhuman and degrading treatment to which he has been subjected by the authorities in Greater Tehran prison. The aim of the judicial system’s persecution of both him and his family has been to get him to stop voicing criticism, even from behind bars. On 18 July 2018, he was given an additional six-year jail sentence for “anti-government propaganda and “insulting Islam’s sacred symbols” in his prison writings.
More and more Iranian prisoners, including journalists, are putting their lives at risk by going on hunger strike in protest against the conditions and mistreatment to which they are being subjected, or to press their demands for decent medical treatment.