Rights Group Criticizes Sentences Given to Iranian Journalists

A media rights group is condemning what it calls "harsh sentences" that Iranian authorities imposed on at least seven journalists.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said Friday that the reporters were jailed this summer for their coverage of protests in February by the Gonabadi Dervish religious order.

The New-York based group said Iranian courts in July and August sentenced at least six journalists affiliated with Majzooban Noor, a news website that focuses on the Gonabadi Dervish minority, and a journalist from the state-run outlet Ensaf to prison terms of between seven and 26 years.

A Turkey-based editor of Majzooban Noor told VOA earlier in August that the six jailed contributors had received prison terms totaling 71 years.

"There is no reason for them to have been given such heavy sentences other than the fact that the Iranian government is trying to apply pressure on us to shut down Majzooban Noor, which is the central news source of the Dervishes," said Alireza Roshan, an Iranian Dervish writer and poet.

Dervishes involved in the February protests had been demanding the release of arrested members of their community and the removal of security checkpoints around the house of their 90-year-old leader, Noor Ali Tabandeh. Members of the Sufi Muslim religious sect long have complained of harassment by Iran's Shiite Islamist rulers, who view them as heretics.

Roshan said Majzooban Noor has brought international attention to what it sees as human rights violations by Iranian authorities against the Dervishes, including the detention of dozens of women in February's crackdown on the Dervish protests. He said the Iranian government had not accused Majzooban Noor of any illegal activity that could warrant the apparent effort to silence the news outlet.

Iran's courts have accused the reporters of "spreading propaganda against the regime."

In addition to the jail time, the journalists also received sentences of public floggings, multiyear bans on leaving the country, and bans on political and media activity upon their eventual releases.

"These horrifying sentences lay bare Iranian authorities' depraved attitude toward journalists, as well as the hollow center of President Hassan Rouhani's promises of reform," Sherif Mansour, CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program coordinator, said in Washington.

"Iran should end its vicious campaign against journalists and allow them to report freely," Mansour said.

Source: Voice of America