WASHINGTON - Iran’s sentencing of the brother of a VOA Persian TV host to eight years in prison as part of its practice of intimidating relatives of exiled Iranian journalists whose reporting it dislikes has drawn denunciations from the Trump administration and VOA managers.
A lawyer for the brother of Masih Alinejad, the New York-based host of VOA Persian’s Tablet show, broke the news that her brother Alireza had been handed the eight-year prison term in a Wednesday tweet.
ظهر امروز، چهارشنبه ٢٥ تير ماه ١٣٩٩— Saeid Dehghan (@vakilroaya) July 15, 2020
حكم ٨ سال زندانِ موكل #عليرضا_علينژاد
از سوي شعبه ٢٨ دادگاه انقلاب اسلامي تهران به ما ابلاغ شد.
٥ سال بابتِ اجتماع و تباني به قصد اقدام عليه امنيت كشور
٢ سال بابتِ توهين به رهبري
١ سال بابتِ تبليغ عليه نظام
اين حكم بدوي است pic.twitter.com/NZLdbq90zr
Attorney Saeed Deghan said Tehran’s Revolutionary Court issued the sentence to Alireza Alinejad in a Wednesday hearing, in which it convicted him of acting against national security, insulting Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and engaging in antigovernment propaganda. Iranian authorities arrested the 45-year-old father of two last September and have kept him detained at Tehran’s Evin prison, leaving him vulnerable to coronavirus infection.
In a Thursday appearance on VOA Persian’s primetime News at 9 program, Masih Alinejad expressed outrage at the Iranian government’s latest action against her older brother, accusing Iran of taking him hostage to try to silence and punish her.
Alinejad’s Tablet program features discussion of Iran’s social and cultural problems, including its Islamist rulers’ restrictions on women’s rights and press freedom. She also has led a social media campaign in recent years to encourage secular Iranian women to resist the nation’s compulsory hijab or Islamic veiling laws.
U.S. Agency for Global Media CEO Michael Pack issued a statement Friday that said, “In countries hostile to freedom of expression, the friends and family members of journalists as well often endure persecution and retribution, ranging from intimidation to murder, merely because of association."
“The Iranian regime is totalitarian,” Pack’s statement said. “It has suffocated the flow of information and employed tyrannical tactics to silence its people for decades. USAGM remains fully committed to supporting and protecting its journalists, including those who are heroically striving to reach the people of Iran. The agency stands with Alireza and his family as it ramps up America’s fight for liberty in the global war of ideas.”
VOA’s public relations office also issued a statement Thursday deploring the eight-year sentence handed to Alireza Alinejad and calling it part of “continued efforts by Iran to silence journalists who report the truth by punishing their family members.”
“This decision to issue a prison sentence to our colleague’s brother for the important work his sister does here at VOA is unacceptable,” said Acting VOA Director Elez Biberaj. “We condemn the Islamic Republic’s actions designed to intimidate and persecute Masih’s family in Iran as brutal and vindictive and we call upon its leaders to rescind this sentence and release him.”
“I am absolutely appalled by this cowardly and cruel act of retaliation by the Islamic Republic’s regime against Masih Alinejad’s brother in Iran,” said VOA Persian Director Setareh Derakhshesh. “He is being punished with a completely unjust and lengthy prison sentence only because he is refusing to yield to the regime’s pressure to denounce his sister, a well-known New York journalist who reports truthfully about women’s rights in Iran and is our VOA Persian colleague,” she added.
In an audio message sent to VOA Persian on Thursday, U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook said Alireza Alinejad’s “only crime” was having a sister who “dares to speak out against a corrupt regime — and she is right to do that.”
“The Revolutionary Court's terrible decision exposes once again this regime's brutality and insecurity against any dissent,” Hook said.
"We saw this in November with massive crackdowns and massive violence against peaceful protesters. I think the regime should focus on providing justice and prosperity for its people, instead of persecuting those who seek to make Iran a better country,” he added.
Western-based BBC Persian journalists also have seen their Iran-based relatives harassed by the Iranian government in recent years. BBC has responded by recruiting the United Nations and the EU to condemn what the network’s chief Tony Hall described last year as Iran’s “concerted intimidation” of BBC journalists and their families.
In Masih Alinejad’s News at 9 appearance, she spoke in detail for the first time about what she said was a plot by Iran’s top military force, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), to lure her to Turkey in order to kidnap and return her to her native country. Alinejad, who worked as a journalist in Iran until it revoked her press credentials, fled in 2009 and settled in New York in 2014.
Alinejad said she learned of the alleged plot when her brother Alireza informed her about it in a July 2018 Instagram post. Alinejad said her brother told her that her older sister, who disowned her in a state TV broadcast that month, was conspiring with the IRGC to lure her to Turkey under the pretext of having a reunion with their elderly mother.
“My brother revealed this plan by publicly urging me via Instagram not to come to Turkey,” she said. “Now (the Iranian government) has condemned my brother for exposing the IRGC collusion.”
Under Iranian law, Alireza Alinejad has the right to appeal his eight-year sentence. There was no immediate word from Deghan, his lawyer, about when such an appeal might be filed.
In another conversation with VOA Persian later Thursday, Masih welcomed the Trump administration’s rebuke of Iran’s sentencing of her brother.
“I call on the leaders of European countries to join the U.S. in not only condemning Iran’s hostage-taking but also condemning its recent executions of prisoners,” she said.
So far this month, Iran has executed several people for drinking alcohol, allegedly spying for the United States and being members of a banned Kurdish political party. Those executions, and Iran’s July 10 upholding of death sentences of three men for participating in November 2019’s mostly-peaceful antigovernment protests, have prompted Iranians worldwide to flood Twitter this week with millions of messages containing the Persian hashtag #Don’tExecute.