Three Iranian journalists transferred to prisons notorious for mistreating detainees
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is alarmed by the transfers of three Iranian journalists to prisons notorious for cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, in a practice often used to deliberately break the resistance of prisoners of conscience. These transfers come just days after another journalist, Baktash Abtin, died as a result of not being treated when he caught Covid-19 in Tehran’s Evin prison.
RSF has been told that the fate of these three journalists – Alieh Motalebzadeh, Narges Mohammadi and Kayvan Samimi Behbahani – is controlled by Amin Vaziri, a 28-year-old deputy prosecutor who is charge of Evin’s prisoners of conscience and who is close to the head of the Iranian judicial system, Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Eje.
Vaziri “is in charge of the dirty work,” a lawyer said on condition of anonymity. “His job is to crack down on resistance in prison by allowing sick journalists to die or by exiling them to the country’s various other prisons, far from their home, in order to punish their families and prepare files on their behaviour in prison.”
His appointment to this position was supported by President Ebrahim Raisi, one of the leading members of the “death commission” that executed nearly 4,000 political prisoners, including journalists, from July to September 1988.
“By transferring prisoners from one detention centre to another and by depriving them of medical care as was the case with Baktash Abtin, the regime is deliberately trying to break their resistance,” said Antoine Bernard, RSF’s director of advocacy and strategic litigation. “The passivity displayed by international bodies unfortunately encourages the Islamic Republic to pursue such practices, which are liable to result in a slow and clandestine death for detainees.”
Three latest transfers
Alieh Motalebzadeh, a photojournalist who is vice-president of the Press Freedom Defence Association, was suddenly transferred on 9 January to Qarchak women’s prison in Varamin, a city in the southern part of Tehran province. This prison is notorious for its deplorable sanitary conditions and her transfer was a punishment for organising an event in the women’s section of Evin prison to mark Abtin’s death.
Detained since October 2020 and serving a three-year jail term, Motalebzadeh has been persecuted by the judicial system and prison officials. In particularly, she has been banned from receiving visits and talking to her family for “publicly denouncing, along with other detainees, the coronavirus-related health situation in the prison.”
Fellow journalist and human rights defender Narges Mohammadi was transferred to Qarchak ten days later, on 19 January. Since her arrest in November 2021, she had been held in isolation in Evin prison and was denied the right to receive visits and talk to her family.
Sentenced to two and a half years in prison for “anti-government propaganda via the publication of false information” and “insulting government officials” including Evin prison’s director, Mohammadi has just received an additional eight-year jail term in a hearing that took just a few minutes and was held without either her or her lawyer being present. She was also sentenced to 70 lashes, in addition to the 80 lashes to which she was sentenced in September (as she reported at the time on Instagram).
Kayvan Samimi Behbahani, the editor of the monthly Iran Farda, was summarily transferred to Rajai Shahr prison on 20 January. Located in Karaj, a city to the north of Tehran, it is one of Iran’s worst prisons in terms of the number of reported cases of torture, rape and murder.
Aged 73, Behbahani is one of the world’s oldest imprisoned journalists. He is being kept in jail despite warnings by his family and human rights defenders, and despite a medical certificate that says his state of health is incompatible with imprisonment. During his transfer, described by his lawyer as violent, he was not allowed to take his personal effects or medicine.
Baktash Abtin precedent
The writer and journalist and writer Baktash Abtin died on 8 January after catching Covid-19 in Tehran’s Evin prison. Although warned that his condition was worsening dramatically, the prison authorities waited too long before organising his transfer to hospital. RSF has asked the UN to set up an independent international commission of enquiry into his death.
The harassment and persecution of prisoners of consciences, including journalists, in Iran’s jails has intensified since an increase in protests in 2019.
Iran is ranked 174th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index.