Iran arrests two journalists covering crackdown on religious protests

New York, March 1, 2018--Iranian security forces on February 19 arrested Reza Entessari and Kasra Nouri, reporters with the Sufi news website Majzooban-e-Noor, while they were covering the violent dispersal of religious protests in Tehran, according to their employer and the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).

The clashes broke out when Tehran's security forces clashed with members from a Sufi-splinter group, the Gonabadi Dervishes, who were protesting the arrest of one of their members, and left five security forces dead and dozens injured. Over 300 people, including the two reporters, were arrested, according to media reports which quoted police officials.

Farhad Nouri, the Sufi community's spokesperson, told CHRI on February 23 that Nouri received a blow to the head that broke his skull and sent him into a coma for a while, but did not offer more details. Farhad Nouri also told CHRI that both Kasra Nouri and Entessari have been held at a federal prison south of the capital in Fashafouyeh, following a hospital stay for treatment. It was unclear how long they were hospitalized before being transferred to prison.

Although neither man has been officially charged with a crime, member of Iran's Assembly of Experts Ayatollah Mohsen Araki told Fars News Agency on February 27 that "those who had a hand in the death of security force members should be prosecuted for murder."

"Iranian authorities must release journalists Reza Entesari and Kasra Nouri and provide them with appropriate medical care immediately," CPJ's Middle East and North Africa Coordinator Sherif Mansour said from Washington, D.C. "Covering protests is a public service, not a crime, and Iranian authorities should let journalists do their work without retribution."

CPJ contacted Iran's administrative justice court via its online contact form, but did not receive an immediate response.

Videos of the protests, including a clip that shows Entessari talking to the camera about the plight of the Dervish community, were posted to Nouri's Twitter account.

Both journalists have previously served time in jail in retaliation for their work, according to CPJ research, and were both were granted early releases in 2015, according to news reports and Majzooban-e-Noor.

Entessari was arrested in 2011 and sentenced in 2013 to eight years and six months and banned for reporting for five years over charges of "disrupting national security," "propaganda against the state," "insulting the Supreme Leader," and "participation in disrupting public order," according to his employer's website.

Nouri was arrested in 2012 and sentenced in 2013 to four years and four months in prison for "propaganda against the regime," "acting against national security," "insulting the Supreme Leader," and "membership in the Majzooban-e-Noor group," according to Majzooban-e-Noor. Nouri developed respiratory problems during his imprisonment, according to reformist news websites.