Indictments have been issued against the directors of two Iranian newspapers for publishing reports on Iraqi pilgrims travelling to holy sites in Iran for sex tourism.
A website close to the speaker of parliament and dailies Shahrvand and Sharq published reports in August concerning Iraqis who travel to Iran seeking sexual services while pretending to be visiting Shi'ite holy sites, including Mashhad, northeastern Iran, where the eighth Imam, Ali ibn Moussa al-Reza is buried.
Indictments have been issued against the managing directors of Shahrvand and Sharq dailies, Tehran Prosecutor-General, Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi said on Wednesday, October 17.
The Islamic Republic's authorities have vehemently dismissed the reports of sex tourism as unfounded.
Nonetheless, hundreds of social media users insist that Mashhad has turned into a destination for sex tourism, competing with Pattaya in Thailand.
In an August 26 story the daily Shahrvand had quoted a tourism industry worker as saying, “Some of the Iraqi pilgrims book their rooms in Mashhad provided they come with a woman for sigha (temporary marriage).” Shi'a Islam permits temporary marriages in addition to the four legal wives a man can have.
Besides sex tourism, it's a well-established fact that the recent dramatic fall in the value of Iran’s national currency (rial) has attracted tens of thousands of Iraqis to Khuzestan province markets for an “almost free” shopping spree that has substantially increased prices for many goods in the cities of Abadan and Khorramshahr, southwest Iran.
Meanwhile, enraged Iranian citizens have accused Iraqis of harassing local young women.
Based on images circulated on social media, protests against the influx of Iraqis in the two cities have turned into large demonstrations where people chanted vitriolic slogans, condemning the behavior of their neighbors to the west.
A footage circulated on social media showed hundreds of demonstrators in Abadan chanting, “Iraqis, out, out,” in Persian, referring to visitors who came from Iraq’s southern provinces.
However, Tehran Prosecutor-General has dismissed the reports as "fake news", accusing their publishers as playing a "divisive" role.
Following the publication of such reports, Jafari Dolatabadi said that a number of website administrators and newspaper managing directors were summoned and officially warned.
Without elaborating on the content of the indictments against Shahrvand and Sharq managing editors, the prosecutor issued a new warning, "The media should pay attention to the politics and interests of the country; for they will be prosecuted if they ignore the establishment's redlines."
Earlier, the Islamic republic's judiciary spokesman, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei had also maintained that [pro-reform] daily Sharq and other news outlets would be indicted for sowing “seeds of division” among Iranians and Iraqis.
As reporting on the issue became embarrassing for the authorities, the head of judiciary, Sadeq Amoli Larijani, also threatened that those media which publish reports about sex tourism to Iran would be held accountable.
Accusing Washington of having a covert role in the incident, Iraq born Amoli Larijani claimed, "The United States had fabricated the reports of Iraqi sex tourism in Mashhad and is attempting to sow the seeds of division among Iranians and Iraqis,” adding, “I have ordered Tehran’s Prosecutor-General to charge media outlets that seek to promote animosity between Iranians and Iraqis by highlighting these stories about pilgrims to Mashhad.”
Immediately after Amoli Larijani's comments, the Interior Ministry also joined the chorus to dismiss reports that Iraqis sexually harass Iranian women in Mashhad, as baseless.
Sex services are offered to Iraqi men and other foreign tourists and pilgrims in up to 6,000 private accommodations called “travelers houses” in Mashhad, Khabar Online, the website affiliated with parliament speaker Ali Larijani, reported.
Iranian law explicitly forbids unmarried men and women from entering a hotel room together.