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Watchdog Says Chief Of Iranian News Agency Convicted For Interviewee's Remarks

Iran -- Zeinab Rahimh & Ali Motaghian

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says Ali Motaghian, the chief of Iran's semiofficial ISNA news agency, has been convicted over the publishing of an article quoting a former Iranian diplomat who criticized Tehran's "arbitrary" intelligence operations in Europe.

It was not immediately clear what sentence was handed down in the case and whether Motaghian was in custody after his trial on charges of "publishing lies with the intention of disturbing the public," the CPJ said.

The Iranian judiciary's own news agency, Mizan, said Motaghian faced a sentence ranging from two months to two years in prison, as well as 74 lashes and a fine.

The trial followed a complaint by the intelligence branch of Iran's powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), after ISNA published an extensive interview in January 2019 with Ali Majedi, Iran's former ambassador to Germany.

Majedi appeared to criticize some of Iran's intelligence operations in Europe during the interview.

Majedi's comments followed Germany's arrest of Vienna-based diplomat Assadollah Assadi, who prosecutors said belonged to Iran's Intelligence Ministry.

German prosecutors have accused Assadi of being involved in a plot to bomb an annual rally of the Iranian exile group Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO or MEK) in neighboring France, and providing the explosives.

"We are facing an issue inside the country, such as arbitrary operations," ISNA quoted Majedi as saying. "Can we deny that there are no examples of this happening outside the country? Such operations damage the trust."

The reporter who wrote the story and Majedi were found not guilty by Tehran's Media Court last month, CPJ said.

The Iranian Students' News Agency opened in 1999 and is nominally independent, but -- like other semiofficial news agencies -- operates under a license from the government.

Journalists in Iran face harassment from the authorities and have even been imprisoned for their work. Foreign journalists, especially those with Western ties, have also been imprisoned.

With reporting by AP