Freelance journalist who reported on strikers goes to prison for 5 years!

A freelance reporter has been given a five-year sentence for covering on a peaceful rally by striking sugar mill workers demanding their unpaid wages. Sepideh Qoliyan had to report to prison earlier this week to begin serving her time after refusing to sign a letter of apology to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. Some of her co-defendants who took part in the rally were pardoned. Qoliyan was arrested in November 2018 in Shush, southwest Iran,. Freed on bail on February 9, 2020, she returned to prison on June 21, 2020. Her case brings into sharp relief the arbitrary nature of the Iranian judicial system, the criminalization of peaceful protest and the persecution of independent journalists in Iran.

“When I entered the Evin Courthouse, the judge presiding over Branch 1 asked one of the guards to call me into his office,” Qoliyan said in a video message posted on June 20, a day before returning to prison. She continued: “I asked him about the (recent) pardons. He said, ‘Write a request for a pardon to the Leader and we’ll see what we can do for you.’ When I said I won’t write a request for a pardon, he said, ‘You will be taken into custody and returned to prison.”

Qoliyan, 25, is serving a five-year prison sentence imposed by the Appeals Court in December 2019 on charges of “assembly and collusion against national security” along with eight co-defendants who received the same sentence: labour activists and journalists Esmail Bakhshi and Mohammad Khanifar, Atefeh Rangriz, Amirhossein Mohammadifard, Sanaz Allahyari, Amir Amirgholi, Asal Mohammadi and Marzieh Amiri. However, on May 23, 2020, attorney Farzaneh Zilabi announced that Bakhshi, Khonifar and Nejati had been put on the pardon list.

On May 16, 2020, attorney Amir Raesian told Shargh newspaper: “Last week, following a verbal order from the Judiciary to the security division’s sentence enforcement office, any action on the Haft Tappeh and related cases was stopped. According to what we have orally been told, the case against the Haft Tappeh workers has been annulled and they no longer need to return to prison. However, we have not yet received any written notification.”

Iranian authorities have yet to say why Qoliyan was not pardoned.

Inside and outside prison, Qoliyan has been outspoken about the torture to which she and fellow detainees were subjected while in detention in the custody of Iran’s Intelligence Ministry and her unjust conviction. On January 9, 2019, she tweeted about what she witnessed during her arrest. While the tweet has since been removed, she stated: “During Esmail Bakhshi’s arrest, I witnessed him being brutally beaten … I’m ready to give testimony about myself and Esmail Bakhshi in any fair trial.”


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