LONDON: The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has called on Iran to stop secretly prosecuting journalists over accusations of spreading fake news.
The move comes after three unnamed employees of the country’s Fars News Agency, including a managing director, were convicted on March 14 in secret trials for “spreading false news,” the latest such incident of journalists being targeted by the state.
Iran has a long history of detaining journalists, but action against them has accelerated in recent months in the aftermath of a series of anti-regime protests that rocked the country last year.
It was also revealed on March 14 that managing directors from two other Iranian media outlets, the Maghreb Daily and Farhang Ashti newspapers, had been convicted of similar charges by the same court.
In December, journalist and regime critic Roohollah Zam, who was arrested in Iraq and extradited to Tehran, was executed.
He had been convicted of 17 charges, including “spreading false news,” espionage and insulting the supreme leader.
Iranian law allows a sentence of up to two years in prison, 74 lashes, fines, or a combination of the above for journalists convicted of spreading fake news.
The CPJ said it was unable to ascertain what alleged misinformation the five had been accused of, the sentences that were handed down to them or even their identities, owing to the secret nature of their trials.
Sherif Mansour, the CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, said: “Iranian authorities must stop secretly prosecuting journalists for their work; if authorities have any supposed evidence against members of the press, it should be revealed in open court proceedings. Closed door trials of unnamed journalists cannot be taken seriously.”
He added: “The journalists and directors of the Fars News Agency, Maghreb Daily and Farhang Ashti should see all their charges dropped.”