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.


Zimbabwean film industry makes Netflix debut with ‘Cook Off’

Updated 02 June 2020

Zimbabwean film industry makes Netflix debut with ‘Cook Off’

  • The romantic film is about a struggling single mother who finds love during a cooking competition

HARARE: Zimbabwean film Cook Off, a romance about a struggling single mother who finds love during a cooking competition, premiered on Netflix on Monday, a debut that its makers hope will propel the country’s small film sector to global audiences.

Zimbabwe often grabs headlines for its economic woes and political crises, but producer Joe Njagu said the film sought to project a different image.

“I wanted the world to know that there is more to Zimbabwe than what they hear. We also fall in love, we also enjoy nice food. We also have very nice stories,” said Njagu.

With a production budget of only $8,000, Njagu said he used his personal relationships with the cast and crew to sign deferred contracts and to bring on board studio owners and equipment hire companies without making immediate payment.

The low budget film was shot in 2017 but very few people in Zimbabwe had heard of it, even after it won several awards at international film festivals, including in the Netherlands, South Africa and US. Everything changed two and half months ago, when Netflix, the world’s leading entertainment streaming service with 189 million paid viewers, came knocking on the door.

“It’s a big ‘hello, this is Zimbabwe we are here.’ It’s an opportunity for us to introduce our content to the rest of the world. It’s really a big deal for us,” Njagu said.

He would not say how much the Netflix deal was worth but that it was enough to pay the deferred expenses and make a profit.

The film creators are now in talks with Netflix about possible future productions while television stations in Europe, Africa, US also want to air Cook Off.

“It’s a different story, it’s no longer deferred payments, it’s now commissioned work, it’s now getting budgets to do productions,” he said.

“We can’t fall short anymore. This is the world stage.”