An Iranian journalist says he has been forced to seek asylum in Austria after receiving threats from the Iranian authorities.
Payam Younesipour, the deputy editor of the sports daily Iran Varzeshi, had traveled to Austria to cover a sports event. He reportedly filed for political asylum on March 29.
Younesipour said he received threats from the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) after publicly blaming the IRGC for the death of his colleagues, who were on board the Germanwings plane that crashed last week.
Younesipour's colleagues, Milad Hojatoleslami and Hossein Javadi, were on their way to cover a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona when their Germanwings flight crashed in the French Alps.
Both young men worked for hard-line news outlets: Hojatoleslami was a reporter for Tasnim news agency, which is reportedly affiliated with the IRGC, while Javadi was a sports journalist with the Vatan-e-Emrooz daily.
Younesipour said the two had made the trip at their own expense, as their employers were not willing to back them financially.
Speaking to the Persian service of Deutsche Welle, Younesipour said: "I had a simple and logical criticism, why is it that a military organization with a huge state budget cannot buy a return trip for two of its reporters? They had to wait for two days before taking that flight."
Younesipour said he had made the comments shortly after hearing about the death of his friends when he said he wasn't in a good psychological state.
The Guardian reported on March 25 that Younesipour himself and another journalist were supposed to be on that flight, but they had made last-minute changes to their plans.
In his interview with Deutsche Welle, Younesipour said the following his criticism he received threatening calls, text messages, and e-mails from "officials of the IRGC and military officials."
It wasn't clear from his comments whether the warnings had been made directly or through intermediaries.
He said the threats made him decide not to return to Tehran and remain in Austria. "They said, 'You have to repent, you have to say it to different news agencies,'" he said.
"The most important thing that really scared me was a text message from an old-time colleague who wrote: 'today we were in a meeting and I heard that the IRGC will be waiting for you at [Tehran's Imam Khomeini] airport,'" he added.
Younesipour said he was surprised by the sharp reaction over a "simple criticism" he had made in interviews with Persian-language media outside the country.
"The slightest criticism faces the harshest reactions in our country," he said. "I had only traveled to Austria to cover a game, now I'm facing a [situation] that I had never imagined."
Younesipour is the second Iranian journalist to seek political asylum in the West in recent days.
Last week, journalist Amir Hossein Motaqi, who campaigned for Iran's President Hassan Rohani, told RFE/RL that he decided to seek refuge in Switzerland.
Motaqi, who had traveled to Lausanne to cover the nuclear negotiations between Iran and major powers for an conservative Iranian news agency, claimed he had been hampered in his work by the Iranian authorities.
Some Iranian media reports said Motaqi had traveled to Switzerland with the sole purpose of seeking asylum.
Iran confirmed on March 30 that Motaqi had defected while covering the talks. There has so far been no official comment on the defection of Younesipour.
-- Golnaz Esfandiari