International media-freedom watchdogs are urging Iran to stop jailing members of the press arbitrarily, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic, after a local journalist started serving an 18-month prison sentence in Tehran's Evin prison.
Hassan Fathi, a freelance columnist, began his prison term last week after his appeal in a 2018 criminal case stemming from an interview with the BBC’s Persian service was denied, according to the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), a U.S.-based outlet that covers news in Iran.
The Iranian authorities "continue to jail journalists although COVID-19 is taking a heavy toll on the country's prison population," Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said on May 14.
Iran "must stop their absurd practice of imprisoning journalists solely for speaking to foreign media outlets, especially during a pandemic, when any jail term could be a potential death sentence," said Sherif Mansour, Middle East and North Africa program coordinator at the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
Fathi was detained in May 2018 after he gave an interview with the BBC's Persian service about the reelection of President Hassan Rohani, according to an interview with the journalist by Iran International.
Tehran's Revolutionary Court charged Fathi with "spreading lies and disrupting public opinion," before releasing him on bail, Fathi told the Britain-based broadcaster.
It was unclear when Fathi was initially convicted or sentenced, but a Tehran court early this month rejected his final appeal, HRANA reported.
Also on May 14, RSF quoted the family of Mahmud Shariari, a former national radio and TV presenter, as saying he had been transferred last week from Evin prison to a section of a Tehran hospital that is reserved for coronavirus patients.
Shariari has been detained since mid-April for "publishing false information about the coronavirus," the Paris-based group said.
RSF said that imprisoned journalists in Iran "have routinely been denied adequate medical care in the past and...are now in danger of dying from the coronavirus that is spreading in the prisons."