Press-rights group urges Iran to release journalist jailed for BBC interview

Conditions in many of Iran’s prisons fall well short of international standards. (File/Getty Images)
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Updated 15 May 2020

Press-rights group urges Iran to release journalist jailed for BBC interview

  • BBC Persian condemned the continuing attempts by the Iranian authorities to suppress freedom of speech
  • The Revolutionary Court of Tehran charged Fathi with “spreading lies and disrupting public opinion”

LONDON: The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on Thursday called on Iran to release a journalist serving an 18-month sentence in a notorious Tehran prison for giving an interview to the BBC.
Hassan Fathi, a freelance columnist and former editor of the Iranian daily Ettelaat, is an inmate at Evin Prison. His jail term began on May 6 after he lost an appeal against his 2018 conviction, the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) reported.
Fathi told the UK-based Iran International television channel that he was arrested on May 26, 2018 after he talked to BBC Persian Television about the re-election of President Hassan Rouhani. The Revolutionary Court of Tehran charged him with “spreading lies and disrupting public opinion,” and released him on bail in June 2018, he said.
The Tehran Appeals Court rejected his final appeal on May 2 this year and ordered him to begin his sentence, according to HRANA.
BBC Persian condemned the continuing attempts by the Iranian authorities to suppress freedom of speech.
“The long and continuing campaign of harassment against BBC Persian by the Iranian authorities has been extended to other international media outlets and, in the case of Hassan Fathi, to independent analysts and contributors,” a BBC Persian spokesman told Arab News. “These attempts to stifle free expression were condemned in an unprecedented joint statement at the UNHRC (United Nations Human Rights Council) in March of this year.”
The CPJ urged the Iranian authorities to release Fathi immediately and drop the charges against him.
“Iranian authorities 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, the organization’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator.
Many human-rights groups have condemned the Iranian government for failing to protect inmates from COVID-19 during the pandemic and urged it to release political prisoners. Amnesty International, for example, called on the “Iranian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience.”
Conditions in many of Iran’s prisons fall well short of international standards. They are overcrowded, poorly ventilated, have limited hot-water facilities and are infested with insects, making them breeding grounds for the coronavirus.


British MP slams Brotherhood sympathizer’s appointment to Facebook Oversight Board

Updated 30 May 2020

British MP slams Brotherhood sympathizer’s appointment to Facebook Oversight Board

  • UK government investigation into Karman's appointment could begin in July

LONDON: British MP Ian Paisley has called Facebook’s decision to appoint Muslim Brotherhood sympathizer Tawakkol Karman to its oversight board “unbelievable.”

Karman rose to prominence as part of Al-Islah Party, a Yemeni affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood known for its divisive and violent agenda. Her appointment to Facebook’s Oversight Board, the body established to arbitrate on the content allowed on the platform, has drawn global ire.

In an online discussion, British MP Ian Paisley expressed disbelief at her appointment.

“This decision by Facebook, I believe, is so counterintuitive, it’s unbelievable,” he said.

“We have an organisation that’s set up to have a transparency process, and they then appoint (Karman), who frankly is not, and cannot be, regarded as fit to be in the position (she has) been appointed to,” he continued.

Paisley announced that he had written to Facebook about Karman's appointment, and has called on the Department of Culture, Media and Sport to investigate their conduct in this regard. He said the department has agreed in principle that an investigation should take place and that it could begin as early as July.

He also called on the social media giant to remove Karman from the board: “They don’t need to wait for an investigation. Facebook needs to take immediate action. They need to do the right thing.

“Whether we are from Christian, Muslim or Jewish backgrounds, we need to speak out as one and say we are for free speech, but not for the abuse of that free speech,” Paisley said.

Facebook stated that it created the Oversight Board “to exercise independent judgment over some of the most difficult and significant content decisions.”

But Paul Tweed, an international media lawyer, expressed concern at the company’s process of appointing board members and its very existence.

“In addition to being their own judge, Facebook now has their own jury. This is tantamount to a defendant in a criminal case being able to choose their court, judge and jury,” he said.

Tweed held particular contempt for the way Karman and other members were selected for the Oversight Board. 

“Who has picked them? Who has put these 20 people in place? Facebook picked them, and that’s not fair.”