Revolutionary Guards Going after Family Members of Iranian Journalists Living Abroad
Brother of Journalist Sentenced to Five Years in Prison
In a long-established practice of targeting the family members of Iranian journalists who live outside Iran, the Revolutionary Guards have sentenced the brother of a journalist to five years in prison, on trumped up national security charges.
The Guards have long harassed the relatives of Iranian journalists living abroad, in an effort to intimidate foreign-based reporters and silence critical media coverage of the Islamic Republic.
In the most recent case, Davoud Assadi, the brother of the well-known Iranian journalist Houshang Assadi who lives in Paris, was sentenced to the five-year prison term for “assembly and collusion against national security.”
Yet Davoud Assadi, while referred to for six months by Iranian news media as a “journalist” in detention, is neither a journalist nor has he ever been interested or involved in politics. Rather, he is the marketing manager of a private company based in Tehran. He is in his early 30s, married, and has a child.
His brother, Houshang Assadi, edited RoozOnline, a dissident news website funded by the Dutch parliament, which operated for 12 years until its closure at the end of 2015. Houshang Assadi was also the author of the critically acclaimed book Letters to My Torturers, which depicted his time as a political prisoner in Iran during the 1970s.
“I’m surprised that all this time my brother’s lawyer, Mr. [Mahmoud] Alizadeh [Tabatabaee], has described him as a journalist,” Houshang Assadi said in an interview with the Campaign. “My brother doesn’t even read the newspaper. [The Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Organization] has accused a man, who has never written a sentence in his life, of being a journalist in order to carry out their own security agenda.”
Asked why he is speaking out now, Houshang Assadi said he had learned of his brother’s arrest from their father, but did not publicize it because Davoud’s wife was told by Judiciary officials to keep quiet.
“My brother’s wife was summoned to Branch 13 of the Culture and Media Court. They treated her with a lot of respect and told her that Davoud would definitely be freed, but only after the mandatory three-month interrogation period,” said Houshang Assadi.
“They told her that she should absolutely refrain from giving me any information. My brother’s wife is not a social or political activist. She is a young woman busy raising a little boy. She believed what they told her,” he added.
“My brother’s wife has not had any contact with me during this time (since Davoud’s detention). I don’t blame her, given the atmosphere of intimidation they built around her. But I told my father that being silent about the framing of Davoud would be the worst thing for his situation,” continued Houshang Assadi.
“But [Davoud’s] wife insisted we should be quiet and comply with the authorities. For this reason, I was silent. But after the verdict was issued, I decided to talk and tell the world about the lies and injustice,” he said.
Four journalists—Issa Saharkhiz, Ehsan Mazandarani, Ehsan (Saman) Safarzaei and Afarin Chitsaz—were arrested on November 2, 2015 by agents of the Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Organization. That same day the agents arrested a fifth person who was presumed to be a journalist, but his identity was not immediately revealed. That person was Davoud Assadi.
Houshang Assadi told the Campaign his brother is faring poorly in prison.
“He was moved to Evin Prison’s Ward 8 last week, but before that he was in solitary confinement in Ward 2-A, run by the [Revolutionary] Guards,” said Houshang Assadi.
“I have heard that in Ward 8 Davoud is often curled-up in a corner and afraid to talk to anyone. He is a young man who has never been involved in social or political activities. Now, after months in solitary confinement, he’s so depressed and afraid that he doesn’t want to be in contact with anyone,” he told the Campaign.
“This is an obvious violation of human rights. It’s the worst kind of treatment when you arrest and punish someone only for your own goals; someone who’s not a political activist,” he added.
Mahmoud Alizadeh Tabatabaee, Davoud Assadi’s lawyer, recently told the Campaign that his client was convicted because of funds he had received from his brother, Houshang Assadi. Tabatabaee added that Assadi insisted in court that he did not know why his brother was sending him money, but the judge was not convinced.
But according to Houshang Assadi, it was always clear that the money was for their father’s medical expenses.
“Mr. Alizadeh [Tabatabaee] is giving out wrong information. It has been a year and a half since I learned about my father’s illness. As brothers, we agreed to each pay a certain amount for his treatment,” said Houshang Assadi.
“I wired 7.8 million tomans ($2,500 USD) to my brother’s account for my father’s medical bills. Sometimes I also shipped pills that could not be found in Tehran,” added Houshang Assadi. “If the court has evidence that the money I sent was spent on anything other than my father’s expenses, it should publish it.”
“We did not have a secret account and we were not involved in anything clandestine. Why isn’t the security establishment showing [evidence that] the money was spent for other things? Because they know the accusation is totally false,” said Houshang Assadi. “My feeling is that my brother’s arrest is a warning to me and other political activists based abroad that [the Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Organization] could intimidate our relatives instead of us.”
“A few months before they arrested these journalists [on November 2, 2015], there was a wave of propaganda against Iranian media operating abroad, including RoozOnline,” added Houshang Assadi. “There were articles that claimed RoozOnline had sent millions of dollars to Iran on behalf of Western intelligence agencies. They even published a so-called list of how much we paid Iranians, but RoozOnline did not have any reporters inside Iran.”
“It was obvious that [the Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Organization] wanted to frame RoozOnline and other outlets in foreign countries. My guess is that they arrested Davoud just to back up their conspiracy theories,” he said.
“Based on what I’ve heard from my family, Mr. Alizadeh [Tabatabaee] told them that [during court proceedings] Davoud had completely rejected the charges against him and consistently stated that the money he received from me was spent on our father’s medical treatment,” he added. “But the court did not accept his explanation.”
Houshang Assadi also told the Campaign that he and Davoud Assadi were not in contact very often: “We live in different worlds, far apart. I remember when I called to wish him a happy new year and told him that our website was closing down, he asked me what the name of the site was.”
On the same day that Davoud Assadi’s five-year prison sentence was issued, newspaper columnist Afarin Chitsaz, who wrote for Iran, the official daily newspaper of the Rouhani administration, was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Ehsan Mazandarani, the editor-in-chief of the reformist Farhikhtegan newspaper, was also sentenced to seven years in prison, while Ehsan (Saman) Safarzaei, another reformist journalist who is the international desk editor of Andisheh Pooya magazine, was sentenced to five years in prison.
Issa Saharkhiz, a prominent reformist journalist who was arrested at the same time as the other journalists, has not yet stood trial because he has been hospitalized for serious medical illnesses.