Last Updated: Monday, 19 February 2018, 14:34 GMT

Four-year sentence for online journalist who posted dissident ayatollah's sermon

Publisher Reporters Without Borders
Publication Date 1 December 2008
Cite as Reporters Without Borders, Four-year sentence for online journalist who posted dissident ayatollah's sermon, 1 December 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4934ff8e19.html [accessed 20 February 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Reporters Without Borders condemns the four-year prison sentence which a special court for the clergy in the religious city of Qom imposed on online journalist and cleric Mojtaba Lotfi on 29 November for disseminating the views of Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri and for "publicity against the government."

The court also sentenced Lotfi, who has been held in Qom since 8 October, to five years of banishment from the city after completing the jail term.

"The special court for the clergy operates outside of any conventional legal framework," Reporters Without Borders said. "This verdict is unfair and was adopted without Lotfi being given any chance to defend himself. As well as being a human rights scandal, Lotfi's imprisonment is an unacceptable attempt to intimidate the blogosphere. We call for his release."

An aide to Ayatollah Montazeri, a well-known opponent of Supreme Guide Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Lotfi was arrested in Qom on 8 October after posting a sermon by Montazeri online. In the sermon, Montazeri criticised President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for saying Iran was "the world's freest country" (http://www.amontazeri.com/farsi/default.asp).

The day after Lotfi's arrest, intelligence ministry officials searched his home in Qom, in the centre of the country, confiscating his computer=s hard drive and various personal documents.

The special court for the clergy was created by Ayatollah Khomeiny in 1979 to try clerics who collaborated with the former regime during the revolution. Revived by Ayatollah Khamenei, the revolution's current Supreme Guide, it is regarded as illegal by some lawyers and human rights activists. The accused person is not normally permitted a defence lawyer or, if the court exceptionally allows them to be represented, it is a mullah (a cleric and doctor in Islamic law), who acts as their lawyer.

A mullah himself, Lotfi used to work as a journalist for Khordad, a pro-reform newspaper that was suspended in 2000. He was first arrested in May 2004 in Qom after posting an article entitled "Respect for human rights in cases involving the clergy" on www.naqshineh.com, a website about Qom. He was sentenced in August 2004 to three and a half years in prison for disseminating "lies" online. He was later released on bail pending the outcome of an appeal hearing, for which a date was never set.

Lotfi has lung problems caused by injuries sustained during the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88.

The magazine Ayandeh-é-No ("New Future") was meanwhile suspended on 29 November under article 16 of the press law for failing to appear regularly. A few days before its suspension - ordered by the Commission for the Authorisation and Surveillance of the Press, an offshoot of the Ministry for Culture and Islamic Guidance - the magazine's editor had announced that a new issue was about to be brought out with the help of the staff of Shahrvand Emrouz, a weekly that was suspended on 5 November.

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