Iranian Journalist Could Face Death Penalty For Allegedly “Insulting” Shia Prophet
Pouyan Khoshhal Fired From Reformist Ebtekar Newspaper
Iranian journalist Pouyan Khoshhal has been arrested in Tehran and charged with a crime that could carry the death penalty for using the word “demise” instead of “martyrdom” while referring to a revered figure of Shia Islam.
He was also fired from the reformist Ebtekar newspaper, which issued an apology instead of defending the journalist.
Khoshhal was taken into custody on October 25, 2018, while waiting to board an international flight at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport and charged with “insulting the divinity of Imam Hossein and other members of the prophet’s blessed household,” the Iranian judiciary’s official news agency Mizan reported.
According to Iran’s Islamic Penal Code, those convicted of insulting Imam Hossein, a grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, could be issued the death penalty.
Article 262 states, “Anyone who swears at or commits qazf against the Great Prophet [of Islam] (peace be upon him) or any of the Great Prophets, shall be considered as Sāb ul-nabi [a person who swears at the prophet], and shall be sentenced to the death penalty.”
On October 21, Ebtekar had published a report by Khoshhal, “Disease Awaits Careless Pilgrims,” about the medical issues faced by the millions of Iranians who take a pilgrimage to Iman Hossein’s shrine in Karbala, Iraq annually. Last year, 2,320,000 Iranians made the trip, according to state media reports.
“Every year, pilgrims travel to the city of Karbala to mark the 40th day of the anniversary of Imam Hossein’s demise,” wrote Khoshhal.
The next day, the word “demise” was changed to “martyrdom” and Ebtekar’s Chief Editor Reza Dehaki issued an apology. Khoshhal was also fired from his job.
“In our report, instead of the word ‘martyrdom,’ another word was used by mistake and for this we apologize to Imam Zaman, Imam Hossein and all Shi’ites,” Dehaki wrote.
Hardline officials responded to the apology by demanding Khoshhal’s arrest.
Without mentioning Khoshhal’s name, Tehran Prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi announced on October 24 that an arrest warrant had been issued for the journalist “who published numerous articles that insulted Imam Hossein.”
Khoshhal was also attacked by social media users who called for his execution.
“According to the fatwas of all Shia religious leaders, [Khoshhal] is guilty and should be executed as soon as possible,” tweeted user “Ammar,” who in his Twitter profile describes himself as a willing martyr for Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
“Khomeini95,” who considers himself “a simple cleric,” also tweeted that Khoshhal should be “skewered” for being a “threat to society.”
On the other hand, some journalists in Iran defended Khoshhal while criticizing the newspaper for firing him.
“What Pouyan Khoshhal wrote could really have been an error. Ebtekar’s publisher and editors showed how dishonorable they are by firing Khoshhal and the twitter wave against him is absolutely disgraceful,” tweeted journalist Mahsa Jazini.
The conservative Kayhan newspaper, which claims to have a direct line to the supreme leader, meanwhile criticized the Ebtekar newspaper for allowing a reporter to use an allegedly inappropriate noun to describe Imam Hossein’s death.
“What’s worth noting is that Ebtekar’s publisher is Mohammad Ali Vakili, a member of Parliament’s leadership [committee], and unfortunately a member of the Press Supervisory Tribunal as well and yet he has no clue what is going on in his own newspaper,” said an unsigned editorial in Kayhan on October 23.
The Ebtekar newspaper has been repeatedly banned and reopened in Iran, including during the first term of current President Hassan Rouhani.
On October 29, the tribunal issued a warning to the newspaper, according to the Fars News Agency.