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Reformist Journalist Sasan Aghaei in Prolonged Solitary Confinement Despite Calls for His Release by MPs

CHRI- The Iranian judiciary is refusing to release reformist journalist Sasan Aghaei, who has been detained for more than two months in solitary confinement despite calls for his release by members of Parliament.


Since August 12, 2017, the deputy editor-in-chief of the reformist Etemad newspaper has been held in solitary confinement in Evin Prison's Ward 241, controlled by the judiciary's intelligence branch.

"I ask judicial officials to please change his detention order and release him on bail," said Fatemeh Saeidi, a leading member of the Hope reformist faction in Parliament, on October 13. "The honorable authorities can avoid prolonging this journalist's detention."

Without mentioning Aghaei by name, Deputy Parliament Speaker Ali Motahari wrote a column in Etemad on October 10 criticizing the judiciary for allowing illegal detentions.

"For instance, a reporter was detained in an improper fashion by the Media Court," he wrote. "The family has not been told where he is being held. He remains in detention even though according to the law, he was supposed to be charged and released within 24 hours. Then he was held in solitary confinement for a long period of time to make him falsely confess under psychological pressure."

"For how long must the people's representatives be the refuge for the families of detainees, who constantly come to us for help when we cannot do very much for them?" asked the conservative MP from Tehran.

The public relations office of Tehran Prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi lashed out at Motahari for his column.

"For how long must judicial authorities be forced to tolerate interferences by people like Mr. Motahari?" said a statement published on October 10 by the judiciary's official news agency, Mizan.

The judiciary has not provided a reason for Aghaei's arrest. However, a source close to the journalist told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on August 21 that Aghaei was suspected of working with Amad News, a dissident-run channel on the Telegram messaging network.

"They say he is being held in connection with Amad News, even though he's a licensed journalist and editor of a newspaper and has nothing to do with that site," said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

With nearly 700,000 followers, Amad News is one of the most popular Iranian-content channels on Telegram.

Journalist Hengameh Shahidi and photojournalist Asal Esmailzadeh were also arrested in 2017 for alleged working with Amad News.

Aghaei was previously arrested on several occasions, beginning during the state crackdown in 2009 on the peaceful protests that followed the disputed reelection of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Held for 128 days in Evin Prison, he was sentenced to a year in prison by Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court for "propaganda against the state." However, the sentence was not carried out and Aghaei was released on 50 million tomans ($15,300 USD) bail.

Aghaei began his journalism career in 2001. He worked for several other moderate and reformist newspapers, including Yas-e-No, Farhikhtegan and Hambastigi, before joining Etemad.

Seven Reformists MPs Plan to Sue Iran’s State Broadcasting Agency IRIB for Defamation

CHRI - Seven reformist members of Iran's Parliament who were recently sentenced to prison for their political views will sue the state TV and radio broadcasting agency for alleging the MPs engaged in espionage.

Iran's President Rouhani Pushes Back against Security Media

Iran's President Rouhani Pushes Back against Security MediaPayvandNews - As in other authoritarian states, the Iranian media landscape is greatly shaped by outlets with close links to the security and intelligence establishment. Media outlets with links to security organizations are usually launched with a defined approach and clear goal in mind. They work not only to advance the agendas of their patrons but also to weaken critics of such organizations. While receiving financial, security, and judicial support, these media outlets publish biased and targeted content. A further characteristic of this "security media" is that they employ military and security personnel as their managers, with little regard for journalistic standards.


Hamid Reza Moghaddam-Far

by Saeed Aganji (source: LobeLog)

Fars News Agency, which was launched in January 2003, is an example of this security media. The news agency belongs to the paramilitary Basij Organization and is financially supported by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Its links with security organizations as well as biased approach first became evident during the 2005 presidential elections. At the time, it started to tarnish the image of the moderate candidate, late Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, while boosting conservative upstart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The person in charge of this operation was the editor of the news agency's political service, Mohammad Paariyaab, who had previously worked with Sobh-e Sadegh, which belongs to the IRGC.

In 2008, Hamid Reza Moghaddam-Far, a senior member of the IRGC, was appointed as the managing director of Fars News Agency. With this appointment the IRGC hoped to manage news related to the 2009 presidential elections. For instance, Fars News announced Ahmadinejad's victory, with 24 million votes, just minutes after the election's close. After completing his mission in Fars News Agency, Moghaddam-Far once again returned to the IRGC in September 2011.

Rouhani and the Security Media

The shape of the media landscape has not gone unchallenged, particularly in recent years. At the 2014 National Conference on Promoting Administrative Integrity, moderate President Hassan Rouhani rather bluntly said, "If money, weapon and media all gather together in one organization, there will certainly be corruption," targeting the IRGC in an attempt to expose the nature of the media outlets connected to it.

Rouhani on "money, weapon and media all gather together in one organization"
Read related report by Etemaad daily

But in practice, such outlets remain immune from prosecution, publishing accusations against both administration officials and dissidents with impunity. Although both individuals and legal entities have filed legal complaints against these media outlets, they have yet to be held accountable in court due to the power and influence of the IRGC. At the same time, Reformist media outlets that support the administration-Bahar newspaper in 2014, Ghanoon newspaper in 2016-have been repeatedly closed down as a result of their political leanings.

Tasnim News Agency, another media outlet connected to the security establishment, was launched in 2012. Operating in parallel with Fars News Agency, it was also founded by Hamid Reza Moghaddam-Far, who rose to become deputy for cultural and social affairs of the IRGC.

Tasnim and Fars, whose agenda and content are prepared by the IRGC, use terms and key words mentioned by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in order to assemble what is commonly referred to as "security cases." For instance, after the disputed 2009 presidential elections, Khamenei used the word "sedition" to address critics who questioned the election results. This one key word was enough for the security media to start addressing the issue and paving the way for the security establishment to confront Reformist political activists and journalists.

Before Iran's eleventh presidential elections in 2013, media outlets connected to the IRGC commonly prepared security cases that the Ministry of Intelligence then executed. For instance, in Feb. 2013, the ministry arrested 19 journalists. The security media referred to the arrestees as members of "the sedition group connected to foreign-based media outlets." When Rouhani took office, however, the Ministry of Intelligence's approach toward journalists and media outlets changed. This change resulted in a conflict between the Ministry of Intelligence and the IRGC, which resulted in the IRGC taking over the entire process of designing, preparing, and executing security cases with the aid of its media outlets.

Battling over the JCPOA

In 2015, the security media undertook another project to oppose the nuclear deal between Iran and the six world powers. For instance, in October 2015, during a meeting with the commanders and officials of the Navy of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Ayatollah Khamenei said, "It is forbidden to negotiate with the United States; what the United States wants out of negotiation is infiltration." In this vein, IRGC commander Mohammad Ali Jafari  said on November 2, 2015, "The fourth sedition is a dangerous and long sedition." He then added, "The United States is more interested in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action [JCPOA] than we are because they are interested in what comes after it."

Jafari's comments had been preceded by the arrest of two foreign citizens-Lebanese American Nazar Zaka and Iranian American Siamak Namazi-in August 2015. However, the very next day after his speech, five journalists with ties to the Rouhani administration were detained while the security media published a series of articles about the "discovery of an American network of infiltration in Iran's press."

After these arrests and the increasing talk of "infiltration," Rouhani reacted by saying, "We need to seriously and genuinely fight against any sort of foreign infiltration and we should not allow anyone to misuse the term 'infiltration' for their own personal gains or for the benefit of a certain political faction."

As key opponents of the nuclear deal, the IRGC and radical principlists continued to use the security media to either target the JCPOA or weaken the nuclear negotiation team.

For instance, in May 2017, Javad Karimi-Ghodousi, a member of parliament's national security and foreign policy commission, once again claimed that some members of the negotiation team are spies. He had first initiated the claims last year, which precipitated denials from both the foreign ministry and the intelligence ministry. Moreover, on August 17, the office of the president responded to Karimi-Ghodousi's comments by emphasizing that accusing the members of the negotiation team of being spies belittles the position of MPs.

The security media-Fars News Agency and Tasnim as well as Keyhan and Vatan Emrooz newspapers-view the JCPOA as an important achievement for Rouhani's administration, so generally its positive political and economic outcomes. Even before the nuclear agreement reached its conclusion, they attempted to prevent the compromise from taking place. However, due to the fact that the Islamic Republic of Iran's Supreme Leader Khamanei had announced his relative support, the security media and the hardline political factions could not implement their project.

However, after the nuclear deal they reiterated that the JCPOA is a disgrace and began lobbying for Iran to withdraw from the agreement. The security media is constantly putting pressure on Rouhani's administration by emphasizing that the P5+1 countries, particularly the United States, are failing to implement the deal. Donald Trump's statement at the United Nations against Iran, his repeated statements of dissatisfaction with the nuclear deal, and his desire to void or at least renegotiate the agreement have prompted a reaction from Rouhani, who continues to state that "Iran will never be the first party to violate the agreement." Rouhani has asked for the Trump administration to apologize to the Iranian nation and insisted that the JCPOA is not renegotiable. Trump's position against the nuclear deal is precisely in line with Iran's security media and the hardline political factions. The security media is taking advantage of this opportunity to put pressure on Rouhani's administration to withdraw from the JCPOA.

In the past, the security media could advance their agendas without facing any obstacles, particularly considering that Iranian activists, and Iranian citizens more broadly, had limited access to information tools. Now, however, the Rouhani administration has been able to create obstacles for them by strengthening communication infrastructures and using tools of communication such as Twitter, Instagram, and Telegram to put out its counter-message.

The outcome of recent battles is clear. In the media war that took place between the security media and pro-Rouhani outlets, both during the nuclear negotiations and in the 2017 presidential elections, the administration and its supporters emerged as the winners. Only time will tell whether these are one-offs or part of a genuine realignment of the Iranian media landscape.

About the author: Saeed Aganji is an Iranian journalist, researcher, and former editor-in-chief of the Saba student publication.

... Payvand News - 10/05/17 ... --

Iran: Free Unjustly Held Journalists

Iran: Free Unjustly Held JournalistsHRW – Two Iranian journalists arrested in Tehran in August 2017 remain detained without formal charges, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities should immediately release them or charge them with recognizable criminal offenses and ensure them fair trials.

Reformist Journalist Not Heard From Two Weeks After Arrest in Tehran

CHRI - Several Journalists Arrested in 2017 for Alleged Connections With Amad News

Reformist journalist Sasan Aghaei's family has not heard a word from him since he was arrested by security agents without a warrant at the office of the reformist Etemad newspaper on August 12, 2017.


"It has been ten days since he was detained and he has not made a single phone call. We don't know if he's okay or not. His family is very worried," a  source close Aghaei told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on August 21. "The family was finally given permission to visit him in prison on August 16, but when they got there, the authorities said he was not allowed to see anyone."

The political columnist is being held in Evin Prison's Ward 241—controlled by the judiciary's intelligence branch—on suspicion of collaborating with the independent Amad News outlet on the Telegram messaging network, the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told CHRI.

"They say he is being held in connection with Amad News, even though he's a licensed journalist and editor of a newspaper and has nothing to do with that site," said the source.

The source also criticized the security forces for treating Aghaei like he's a threat to society.

"While raiding the newspaper's office, the security forces had also stationed men outside Sasan's house and his father's house, too, as if they were trying to catch a dangerous criminal," said the source. "Yet the authorities knew where he worked and lived."

"He was not in hiding," added the source. "They should have sent him a warrant. But they arrested him, searched both his and his father's home and took away personal things like books, handwritten pages, and his computer hard drive."

With more than half a million followers, Amad News is one of the most popular Iranian-content channels on the Telegram app. Run by anonymous staff under the motto "Awareness, Struggle, Democracy," the channel frequently publicizes reformist political views.

At least two other journalists and reformist political activists have been arrested for their alleged connection with Amad News: Asal Esmailzadeh in June 2017 and Hengameh Shahidi in March 2017.

On July 18, 2017, former Minister of Telecommunications Mahmoud Vaezi admitted he had tried to block Amad News in Iran, but Telegram refused to cooperate with the demand.

"We are in contact with officials at Telegram, but they refuse to shut down political channels," said Vaezi during a meeting with a group of conservative members of Iran's Parliament.

"For instance, we, like you, would like to see Amad News shut down," he added. "They criticize the Telecommunications Ministry the most."

Aghaei's arrest in August 2017 marks the fourth time he has been detained by the authorities for engaging in his profession.

Aghaei was previously arrested in January 2013 during a crackdown led by security forces on Iranian citizens who had allegedly cooperated with Persian-language media based abroad. He was released soon after without charge.

Aghaei was also arrested on November 22, 2009 for defending protests against the outcome of that year's widely disputed presidential election.

Held for 128 days in Evin Prison, he was sentenced to a year in prison by Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court for "propaganda against the state." However, the sentence was not carried out and Aghaei was released on 50 million tomans ($15,300 USD) bail.

Prior to that Aghaei was arrested in 2002 during a rally to commemorate the July 1999 student uprising at Tehran University. He was released 15 days later without charge after being held in solitary confinement in Evin Prison's Ward 240, controlled by the Intelligence Ministry.

Aghaei began his journalism career in 2001. Before joining Etemad, he worked for several other moderate and reformist newspapers, including Yas-e-No, Farhikhtegan and Hambastigi.

Journalist Sasan Aghaei With Iranian Reformist Etemad Daily Detained

RFL/RE - Iranian journalist Sasan Aghaei has reportedly been arrested. The charges against Aghaei, who works for the reformist daily Etemad, are not clear.

Pro-Rouhani Journalist Tortured by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Acquitted of Anti-State Charges

CHRI - More than two years after his arrest and torture by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), reformist journalist Farzad Pourmoradi, a supporter of President Hassan Rouhani, has been acquitted of the charges laid against him.

Pro-Rouhani Editor Arrested Ahead of May 2017 Elections Remains Detained Without Charge

CHRI - The family of Tahereh Riahi, an editor who has been detained since December 2016 without charge, is calling on President Hassan Rouhani to "keep his word on individual liberties and the rights of citizens" and facilitate Riahi's release, an informed source told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).

Reformist Journalist: Hardliners Working to Sabotage Rouhani Campaign With Intimidation Tactics

CHRI - By preventing speeches in favor of President Hassan Rouhani and blocking his campaigners from reaching voters, hardliners are trying to weaken the incumbent president ahead of the May 19, 2017 election, a reformist journalist told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI)

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