A lawyer for an Iranian journalist sentenced in Iran to 10 years in prison for allegedly insulting a historic religious figure says the ruling will be appealed because it was not handled by the appropriate court.
In a Monday phone interview with VOA Persian from Tehran, lawyer Hossein Ahmadinejad said Iran’s media court should have handled the case against journalist Amir Hossein Miresmaili, but did not do so. Suggesting the media court may have treated the journalist more leniently, he said that court would have better understood a recent Miresmaili tweet alleged to be insulting to Shiite Islam’s 8th Imam.
In an earlier Monday interview with Iranian state news site ISNA, Ahmadiniaz said a Tehran court for government employees handed Miresmaili a 10-year prison term, two-year bans on media activities and leaving Iran, and a cash fine. Iranian authorities had arrested the journalist, who works for the economic news site Jahane Sanat, on April 24, days after he posted a tweet mentioning the 8th Imam, also known as Imam Reza – one of 12 imams revered by many Shiites as spiritual successors to the Prophet Muhammad.
In the tweet, which he subsequently deleted, Miresmaili mocked the Friday prayer leader of the Iranian city of Mashhad, Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda, for suggesting that modern-day concerts are an insult to the teachings of Imam Reza. Miresmaili tweeted that Alamolhoda was wrong, because people say Imam Reza liked to drink "grape juice" – a codename that some Iranians use for wine and other alcoholic beverages that they are forbidden to drink under Iran’s Islamist laws. "Imam Reza was one of us," Miresmaili wrote at the end of the tweet.
Iranian state news agency Tasnim previously reported that Miresmaili was summoned to a court on April 23 for “insulting” Imam Reza. Miresmaili tweeted an apology the same day, saying he did not mean to insult the historical figure. "I'm a Muslim and a Shi'a and I just wanted to criticize Alamolhoda," he wrote.
اول: همچنان میگم به هیچ وجه توهینی به امام رضا (ع) نکردم، من مسلمون و شیعه هستم و فقط میخواستم از علمالهدی انتقاد کنم و اگه کسی رنجیده شد عذرخواهی میکنمدوم: دوستانی که ادعا میکنن مسلمونن چرا تهدید به اسیدپاشی و قتل میکنن؟ بر فرض گناهکار بودن من، دین ما گفته اینطور برخورد کنید؟— امیرحسین میراسماعیلی (@amirmiresmaili) April 23, 2018
Iran's judiciary news agency said authorities arrested Miresmaili on April 24 at Tehran’s airport as he was trying to take a flight to Georgia.
"Miresmaili is a prominent Iranian satirical journalist," his lawyer Ahmadiniaz told VOA Persian. "Since what he wrote (about Imam Reza) was in the context of satirical journalism, I believe his case should have been handled by Iran’s media court."
The media court’s jury is comprised of journalists, other professionals and clerics who are selected by senior Iranian officials every two years. “If the media court heard Miresmaili’s case, his peers would have understood that he was not trying to insult anyone’s faith,” Ahmadiniaz said.
In his comments to ISNA, Ahmadiniaz said the Tehran court that prosecuted Miresmaili convicted the journalist of several charges: insulting Iranian state and judicial officials, insulting religious sanctities, publishing falsehoods to disturb public opinion and publishing immoral content.
Speaking to VOA Persian, Ahmadiniaz said he learned of Miresmaili’s sentence on Sunday and planned to file an appeal within 20 days of the sentencing – a grace period provided by law for such appeals.
"I think the Iranian establishment should look at him with leniency because he is a satirist," Ahmadiniaz said.
This report was produced in collaboration with VOA’s Persian Service.