Independent Iranian Journalist Facing Prosecution For Criticizing Powerful Politician
Detained after criticizing a powerful local lawmaker, Sina Ghalandari, an independent journalist based in the city of Kuhdasht, Lorestan Province, has been released on bail.
“Every journalist or political activist who has criticized him has ended up in court and prison,” a source with knowledge about the case told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI). “Now he’s pressing charges against Mr. Ghalandari.”
The 32-year-old founder of the Radio Lorestan Telegram channel was arrested on December 2, 2017, and held for 18 days in the provincial capital of Khorramabad based on a complaint by Allahyar Malekshahi, the local conservative member of Parliament who chairs the Parliamentary Committee for Legal and Judicial Affairs.
Ghalandari was charged with “publishing falsehoods” based on his reports claiming Malekshahi and other powerful local leaders were involved in several cases of corruption, including embezzlement, according to the source.
Malekshahi maintains strong connections within the judiciary because he headed its provincial branches in Lorestan and the city of Kermanshah before becoming an MP.
“Mr. Malekshahi served in Lorestan’s judicial system for many years and he now heads the judiciary committee in Parliament,” said the source. “He has a lot of power and unfortunately he’s using it to intimidate his critics.”
The source told CHRI that Ghalandari was taken into custody by the FATA cyber police force without a warrant and denied legal representation for the length of his detention.
He continued: “He was summoned by FATA over the phone and when he went to the courthouse he was charged with ‘publishing falsehoods’ and bail was set at 30 million tomans ($8,540 USD). The bail was ready to be paid but the judicial authorities transferred him to the Khorramabad Central Prison for a week without informing his family.”
With more than 6,000 followers on his Telegram channel, Ghalandari’s Radio Lorestan operates with a license from Iran’s Culture and Islamic Guidance Ministry and reports news about the province from a critical angle.
“This is not a problem only faced by Sina Ghalandari,” the source told CHRI. “In the provinces, journalists generally have a much more difficult time than those in Tehran. They are often arrested and released without anyone ever hearing about it. They are beaten and threatened. Even their families are intimidated.”
In October 2016, Ghalandari was sentenced to two years in prison by Branch 3 of the Kuhdasht Criminal Court for falsely reporting that Malekshahi had been defeated in that year’s parliamentary elections by his reformist opponent.
He had issued a correction but judicial authorities blamed him for inciting protests claiming Malekshahi’s victory was fraudulent.
The journalist was acquitted upon appeal in January 2017.