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Iran Arrests Corruption-Exposing Journalist While 'Welcoming' Media Critiques

In this photo shared on social media, Iranian journalist Masoud Kazemi is seen handcuffed after being arrested in Tehran, May 22, 2019, for alleged security offenses.

This article originated in VOA’s Persian Service.

An Iranian journalist who wrote about government corruption has been arrested for the second time in six months on the same day that Iran’s judiciary chief said he welcomes media critiques.

In one of several contrasting state-media reports, news agency IRNA said journalist Masoud Kazemi was arrested Wednesday as he attended a Tehran court hearing. IRNA also quoted defense lawyer Ali Mojtahedzadeh as making sharp criticisms of the presiding judge, whom he accused of deviating from justice by filing a new security charge against Kazemi without prosecutors doing so first, and by raising the bail for Kazemi tenfold to 10 billion rials, or $237,000 based on Iran’s official exchange rate.

Mojtahedzadeh told IRNA the judge introduced a charge of colluding against national security to Kazemi’s trial, in which the journalist already was charged with spreading anti-government propaganda. The lawyer said the judge gave him one week to submit a written defense statement before a verdict is issued.

Mojtahedzadeh went further in his criticism of the Iranian judiciary in a series of Wednesday tweets attacking the judge and even judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi.

After stating that Kazemi had been transferred to Tehran’s Evin prison for detention, Mojtahedzadeh tweeted that judge Mohammad Moghiseh “cursed” at Kazemi during the hearing and exhibited conduct that was “unimaginably strange” and especially “unbecoming” of a judge who also is a cleric.

In his next tweet, Mojtahedzadeh addressed Raisi, saying: “I’m sure you know that a prerequisite for justice is a judge’s adherence to the principle of impartiality, but during Kazemi’s hearing, the judge was cursing and damning him. How can we expect a fair sentence?”

Iranian authorities initially detained Kazemi, a former reporter for prominent reformist newspaper Shargh, at his Tehran home Nov. 5, 2018, before releasing him on bail six days later. Before his arrest, he had tweeted about alleged corruption at the Iranian Ministry of Industry, Mines and Trade.

An Iranian journalist who identifies himself as a friend and former colleague of Kazemi, Sobhan Hassanvand, tweeted a photo of Kazemi in handcuffs, saying it was taken at the court Wednesday.

“Obviously [Kazemi] cannot provide the bail, as it takes 50 years for [him] to collect such money as a journalist. So he is arrested [and] taken to Evin prison until [a] verdict,” Hassanvand wrote.

As Kazemi was being detained, other Iranian state media such as Mehr News Agency highlighted judiciary chief Raisi’s Wednesday remarks to Iranian journalists, whose critiques of government make them “partners” in Iran’s pursuit of justice, as he put it.

“We certainly welcome fair criticisms of the government,” Raisi said. “Expressions of criticism from the media certainly can help to resolve shortcomings in our administrative system,” he added.

Raisi said the Iranian judiciary is obliged to protect press freedom, but he also said all journalists must comply with press laws, which he described as “red lines,” in order to avoid prosecutions.

Iran’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance licenses all news outlets operating in the country and oversees their activities. It also issues work permits for domestic and foreign journalists.

“In the fight against the enemy, the media also have a duty to ensure that they do not publish points and signals that make the enemy happy,” Raisi told the gathered journalists.

Paris-based media rights group Reporters Without Borders, also known as RSF, has described Iran as one of the world’s biggest jailers of journalists. In its annual press freedom ranking published last month, Iran dropped six places to 170th out of 180 countries and territories.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani acknowledged the poor state of press freedom in his nation in a publicly broadcast Jan. 21 speech to officials of the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology in Tehran.

“We do not have free media. We have a state-run TV and radio [organization],” he said.

Rouhani lacks authority over Iran’s powerful judiciary chief, who is appointed by and answerable to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

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