The managing director of reformist daily Sharq was taken into custody on Saturday, April 28, by the order of a judge based in Mashhad, holiest Shi’ite city in Iran.
Mehdi Rahmanian could not raise the bail set for him and was detained by the judge’s order, state-run Iran Students News Agency (ISNA) reported, adding that several people had filed legal complaints about an article in daily Sharq that had allegedly insulted women of a neighborhood in Mashhad.
Iranian hardliners usually rally a group of people to complain about the contents of a newspaper they want to shut down and often manage to do that thanks to their influence in the Judiciary.
Mashhad’s hardline prosecutor is known for a comment in which he had said “prosecutors are only a bit less authoritative than God.”
Meanwhile, religious authorities in Mashhad, including Friday prayers leader Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda and Hojjatoleslam Ebrahim Raisi, a hardline cleric who runs the holy shrine’s administration, have been imposing their own fundamentalist rules about cultural events. They banned concerts in Mashhad and often criticized Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and other “moderate” officials for their relatively liberal approach to political, social and cultural matters.
Mashhad hardliners’ activity against the reform and moderation camp escalated following Raisi’s defeat in the 2017 presidential race.
According to the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps affiliated news agency, Fars, Rahmanian was arrested for publishing a controversial report that showed the residents of “Shahid Rajaei” neighborhood in Mashhad in a bad light.
The report, filed by Shahrzad Hemmati, is about social harms in a poverty-stricken neighborhood on the skirts of Mashhad where a six-year old Afghan girl, Neda Alizadeh, was recently murdered.
Citing officials of an NGO, Ms. Hemmati reported, “There is a street named ‘Milan 6’ in ‘Qala Sakhteman’ neighborhood which is not even shown on the maps. The female residents of the street are classified in two categories; women who never leave their houses and those who go out to sell their bodies for sex.”
The report, according Fars, enraged women and religious people to the extent that they hold a protest assembly and finally signed a petition against daily Sharq.
“Describing female residents of Shahid Rajaei slum as prostitutes has injured them emotionally and left them with no option other than filing a complaint against the managing editor of Sharq,” said deputy prosecutor-general of Mashhad, Hassan Heidari.
“We officially contacted Mr. Rahmanian and asked him to redress people’s injured emotion and punish the individual responsible for the report. Had he done that, we would have not been in current situation,” Heidari maintained.
However, records show that Sharq, on its Thursday, April 19, had published protest and response of the residents of Shahid Rajaei and Shahid Bahonar slums to the controversial report.
Meanwhile, the chairman of Social and Cultural Commission of Tehran City Council, Mohammad Haqshenas has bitterly criticized judiciary for Rahmanian’s detention.
Calling judiciary’s decision to detain Rahmanian as “questionable”, Haqshenas said in a note published by ISNA, “There were no plausible reasons for arresting Rahmanian since he was not going to run away and hide.”
Sharq was founded in 2003 by supporters of President Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005), two years before the end of his second term and soon turned into reformists flagship daily.
The daily has been banned a few times since its launch for undermining Iranian hadliners’ authority.
While a few individuals on Twitter in Mashhad have called for a ban on Sharq, several Iranian journalists have tweeted that Sharq’s managing editor should have been questioned by the Media Court in Tehran, where the daily is based, rather than in Mashhad.