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Iran Journalist Gets 2 Years in Prison for Writing about Vice President’s Brother’s Corruption Case

Undated image of Iranian journalist Fariborz Kalantari, who told VOA on Feb. 9, 2021, that a court informed him days earlier of his July 2020 sentencing to an effective two-year prison term. (VOA Persian)

An Iranian journalist has told VOA that authorities have given him an effective two-year prison sentence and other punishments for writing about a corruption case against a senior Iranian official’s relative, making him the latest journalist to face official retaliation for his work in the Islamic Republic.

In a Tuesday Skype video interview with VOA Persian from his home in Tehran, Fariborz Kalantari said he learned of the multiple punishments in a Feb. 4 visit to a criminal court in the Iranian capital. He said he went to the court a day after receiving a social media tip-off from a follower that authorities were planning to send him to prison.

Kalantari said he discovered while visiting the court that he had been convicted of several alleged crimes seven months earlier, related to his past reporting about the corruption case involving Mahdi Jahangiri, the brother of First Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri.

The journalist shared with VOA what appeared to be a court document showing that he was convicted on July 27 of insulting a private citizen, defamation and spreading lies. The document said the court had sentenced him to a two-year prison term, a one-year prison term, 74 lashes and a fine, and ordered him to make an apology to the first vice president’s brother.

Under Iranian law, Kalantari would serve only the longest prison term of two years if his sentence is confirmed at the end of the legal process. He told VOA that he wanted to file an appeal but was not sure whether authorities would allow him to do so because the usual 20-day window for appealing a sentence had long since passed.

Kalantari tweeted a photo of the apparent court document on Feb. 5, along with a message saying that Mahdi Jahangiri, a prominent Iranian banker, had just been sentenced days earlier to a two-year prison term for the corruption case that the journalist had previously written about.

“A perfect example of how justice is administered under [judiciary chief] Ebrahim Raisi,” Kalantari wrote in his seemingly sarcastic Farsi tweet.

Iranian judiciary spokesperson Gholamhossein Esmaili had announced the sentencing of Mahdi Jahangiri on Jan. 26, saying it was final and could not be appealed.

Jahangiri had been arrested in October 2017 and released on bail in March 2018, pending trial.

The Associated Press cited Esmaili as saying Jahangiri was convicted of “professional currency smuggling” in the amounts of 607,100 euros and $108,000. It said Jahangiri also was ordered to return the funds and fined four times the amounts in question.

In his VOA interview, Kalantari said Iranian officials were punishing him for writing about a corruption case in which few details had been publicly disclosed in recent years. The journalist writes for several Iranian publications and shares his stories on his Telegram channel.

Kalantari criticized what he described as the unfairness of his sentencing in a trial that he was unaware of until months afterward, saying he was never given a chance to defend himself in court. He also said the court accused him of posting his offending articles about Jahangiri on a Telegram channel called Vizheh News or Special News. Expressing shock about the allegation, the journalist said he has no connection to that Telegram account.

VOA cannot independently verify the circumstances of Kalantari’s apparent trial as it is barred from reporting inside Iran. Iranian state-approved news site reported similar details of his sentencing in a Feb. 7 article without any attribution.

The U.S. media rights group Committee to Protect Journalists named Iran as the world’s seventh-most censored country in its 2019 report on repressive governments using digital censorship and surveillance alongside more traditional methods to silence independent media. Eritrea was ranked the most censored country.

The organization also has reported that Iran’s Islamist rulers imprisoned 15 journalists last year and executed a 16th journalist, Ruhollah Zam, whom they seized in neighboring Iraq after luring him to the country from France, where he had been living in exile.

Click here for the original Persian version of this story.

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