Detained Editor Who Exposed Corruption Slapped with Additional Charge
Editor Yashar Soltani, who was initially charged with “spreading lies” after his website published unclassified information about illegal land sales by the Tehran Municipality, has also been charged with “gathering classified information with the intent to harm national security.”
“The charges against Soltani make no sense because the letter from the National Inspection Organization was not marked as classified,” an informed source told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. “The law concerning classified material only applies to secret documents and there has to be proof that there was the intent to disrupt national security, and Mr. Soltani had no such intention.”
“Last week [Yashar Soltani] was prepared to pay the bail set at two billion rials ($65,000 USD), but the prosecutor refused to accept it,” said the source. “It became clear that the prosecutor was doing everything he could to prevent him from being released. Then, on September 25, , they charged Soltani with a new charge that carries a punishment of up to ten years in prison.”
Soltani, the editor-in-chief of Memari News, which focuses on urban news and architecture, was detained on September 17, 2016 after Tehran’s Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf and City Council Chairman Mehdi Chamran filed a suit complaining about the site’s publication of a letter from Iran’s National Inspection Organization to the Tehran Municipality declaring that the municipality’s sale and grants of certain real estate properties to municipality workers and other officials were illegal.
The Campaign has called on the Islamic Republic to stop persecuting reporters for exposing corruption. “The Tehran prosecutor’s suspension of a website for publishing an official letter is a blatant abuse of power aimed at suppressing media organizations that are trying to keep officials accountable for their actions,” said Executive Director Hadi Ghaemi.
According to Article 505 of Iran’s New Islamic Penal Code: “Anyone who, with the intention to disrupt national security, gathers information through any means under the cover of state authorities or government officials, if they intend to provide them to others shall be sentenced to two to ten years’ imprisonment [if successful], and otherwise to one to five years’ imprisonment [if unsuccessful].”
Memari News became Iran’s first news agency to focus exclusively on architecture and urban affairs when it was established in 2009. On August 30, 2016 it published the National Inspection Organization’s letter as part of an investigation of the abuse of government funds, which discovered violations in excess of 2.2 trillion tomans ($702 million USD).
To date there has been no conviction for wrongdoing, but Memari News was shut down by Tehran Prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi following the complaint by Ghalibaf and Chamran.