DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The head of Iran’s semiofficial ISNA news agency has been convicted over publishing an article that quotes a former ambassador criticizing Tehran’s “arbitrary” intelligence operations in Europe, a journalism watchdog group said Friday.
It was unclear what sentence was handed down to ISNA CEO Ali Motaghian after his trial on charges of “publishing lies with the intention of disturbing the public,” the Committee to Protect Journalists said. The judiciary’s Mizan news agency said Motaghian could face penalties ranging from two months to two years in prison, 74 lashes and a cash fine.
The case originates from a complaint filed by the intelligence arm of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard. It involved an extensive interview ISNA published in January 2019 with former Ambassador to Germany Ali Majedi.
During the interview, Majedi appeared to criticize some operations by Iran’s intelligence apparatus in Europe.
The comments came after Germany arrested Vienna-based Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi, who prosecutors said belonged to the country’s Intelligence Ministry. The prosecutors allege Assadi gave a couple explosives and was involved in a plot to bomb an annual rally of the Iranian exile group Mujahedeen-e-Khalq group, or MEK, in neighboring France.
Separately, around the same time, Danish officials accused Iran of planning to assassinate members of the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz living there. That group has claimed a series of attacks in Iran seeking to make the country’s oil-rich Khuzestan province its own country.
“We are facing an issue inside the country, such as arbitrary operations,” ISNA quoted Majedi as saying. “Can we deny that there are no examples of this happening outside the country? Such operations damage the trust.”
The reporter who wrote the story and Majedi were found not guilty by Tehran’s Media Court in a hearing in May, CPJ said.
The Iranian Students’ News Agency, or ISNA, opened in 1999 as reformist President Mohammad Khatami sought to change Iran’s Shiite theocracy. While independent, it — like other semiofficial news agencies — operates under a license from the government.
Journalists in Iran face harassment from security services, while others have been imprisoned for their work. While local journalists face the brunt of that treatment, foreign journalists in Tehran, especially those with Western ties, have been imprisoned as well.