Reformist Journalist Sasan Aghaei in Prolonged Solitary Confinement Despite Calls for His Release by MPs
The Iranian judiciary is refusing to release reformist journalist Sasan Aghaei, who has been detained for more than two months in solitary confinement despite calls for his release by members of Parliament.
Since August 12, 2017, the deputy editor-in-chief of the reformist Etemad newspaper has been held in solitary confinement in Evin Prison’s Ward 241, controlled by the judiciary’s intelligence branch.
“I ask judicial officials to please change his detention order and release him on bail,” said Fatemeh Saeidi, a leading member of the Hope reformist faction in Parliament, on October 13. “The honorable authorities can avoid prolonging this journalist’s detention.”
Without mentioning Aghaei by name, Deputy Parliament Speaker Ali Motahari wrote a column in Etemad on October 10 criticizing the judiciary for allowing illegal detentions.
“For instance, a reporter was detained in an improper fashion by the Media Court,” he wrote. “The family has not been told where he is being held. He remains in detention even though according to the law, he was supposed to be charged and released within 24 hours. Then he was held in solitary confinement for a long period of time to make him falsely confess under psychological pressure.”
“For how long must the people’s representatives be the refuge for the families of detainees, who constantly come to us for help when we cannot do very much for them?” asked the conservative MP from Tehran.
The public relations office of Tehran Prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi lashed out at Motahari for his column.
“For how long must judicial authorities be forced to tolerate interferences by people like Mr. Motahari?” said a statement published on October 10 by the judiciary’s official news agency, Mizan.
The judiciary has not provided a reason for Aghaei’s arrest. However, a source close to the journalist told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on August 21 that Aghaei was suspected of working with Amad News, a dissident-run channel on the Telegram messaging network.
“They say he is being held in connection with Amad News, even though he’s a licensed journalist and editor of a newspaper and has nothing to do with that site,” said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
With nearly 700,000 followers, Amad News is one of the most popular Iranian-content channels on Telegram.
Journalist Hengameh Shahidi and photojournalist Asal Esmailzadeh were also arrested in 2017 for alleged working with Amad News.
Aghaei was previously arrested on several occasions, beginning during the state crackdown in 2009 on the peaceful protests that followed the disputed reelection of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Held for 128 days in Evin Prison, he was sentenced to a year in prison by Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court for “propaganda against the state.” However, the sentence was not carried out and Aghaei was released on 50 million tomans ($15,300 USD) bail.
Aghaei began his journalism career in 2001. He worked for several other moderate and reformist newspapers, including Yas-e-No, Farhikhtegan and Hambastigi, before joining Etemad.