Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has condemned the “extremely harsh” sentences that a Tehran Revolution Court gave last week to six staffers of the Majzooban-i Noor (Enchanted By Light) website.
The website is the only direct source of news and information about the Sufi religious community of Gonabadi dervishes in Iran.
According to RSF, “Two members of the website’s editorial committee, Salehoddin Moradi and Reza Entessari, and the latter’s brother, Sina Entessari, a citizen-journalist who wrote for the site, were sentenced to seven years in prison.”
Another citizen-journalist who reported for the site, Mohammad Sharifi Moghadam, and another member of its editorial committee, Kasra Nouri, were given 12-year terms. Mostafa Abdi, another member of the editorial staff, received the longest sentence of 26 years in prison.
Earlier, in an open letter from Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, four of the defendants had vowed they would not attend court hearings until the way was paved for a just and open trial.
“All six were also sentenced to 74 lashes each and, on completing their jail terms, to two years of internal exile and a simultaneous two-year ban on all civil society and journalistic activity,” RSF said. “The sentences were passed in absentia because the six refused to attend any of the hearings on the grounds that they had no legal representation and the trial was unfair.”
On February 16, for the second time in less than two weeks, security and intelligence agents swarmed Pasdaran Avenue in northern Tehran, where Tabandeh’s residence is located.
Gonabadi dervishes rushed to the scene to force the agents to leave.
After 7 a.m. on February 19, clashes broke out between the supporters of Tabandeh and security and Basij (the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ militia) forces.
Police special units supported by plainclothesmen attacked the protesters and battered dozens of dervishes.
Hundreds were arrested. Footage of dervishes with head injuries and broken teeth and jaws was widely circulated on social media. Three policemen and a member of the Basij were also killed.
Farhad Nouri, the Sufi community's spokesperson, told the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on February 23 that Kasra Nouri received a blow to the head that broke his skull and sent him into a coma for a while, but did not offer more details.
Furthermore, according to RSF, three of Majzooban Noor’s female citizen-journalists, Sepideh Moradi, Avisha Jalaleddin and Shima Entessari, were also sentenced by another branch of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court on July 10 to five years in prison on charges of “meeting and plotting against national security.”
“Rather than judicial decisions, these sentences are examples of how the Iranian judicial authorities persecute independent providers of news and information,” said Reza Moini, the head of RSF’s Iran/Afghanistan desk.
The Iranian regime has been cracking down harder on independent news providers ever since a wave of street protests began late last December in the Shi’ite holiest city in Iran, Mashhad, and soon spread to more than 100 cities across the country.
“We call on Javaid Rehman, the UN’s new special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran, to take action on behalf of journalists who have been arrested arbitrarily and given unfair trials. The regime must adhere to its obligations to respect international standards,” Moini said.
RSF says the dervish citizen-journalists were tortured while being interrogated at Shapoor police station precinct and Evin’s Block 209.
Iran is ranked 164th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index.