Images: The Committee to Protect Journalists called on Iran to immediately release all journalists(AFP)
A US-based media advocacy group has condemned the sentencing by a court in Iran of four reformist journalists to between five and 10 years in prison.
Afarin Chitsaz, Ehsan Mazandarani, Saman Safarzai and Davud Asadi were found guilty of charges including acting against national security.
The Committee to Protect Journalists urged Iran to change laws that it says allows journalists to be harassed.
The four were arrested in November as part of a crackdown by hardliners.
Writers, artists and other cultural figures were also detained in the run-up to February’s elections for parliament and the Assembly of Experts, in which supporters of moderate President Hassan Rouhani made gains.
The journalists were convicted by a court in Tehran on Tuesday on various charges, including “spreading propaganda against the Islamic Republic” and “acting against national security and contacting foreign governments”, the Tasnim news agency reported.
A lawyer for three of the journalists, Mohammad Alizadeh-Tabatabai, told Tasnim that Davud Asadi, whose brother co-founded the Rooz Online opposition website, was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Ehsan Mazandarani, the managing-director of the Farhikhtegan newspaper, was jailed for seven years, Mr Alizadeh-Tabatabai said.
Afarin Chitsaz, a columnist for the government-owned Iran newspaper and actress, and Saman Safarzai, a columnist for the Andishey-e Puya magazine who is also known as Ehsun Sarfarzai, were handed five-year sentences, the lawyer added.
They have 21 days to appeal against their sentences.
The four were accused of “paving the way for US infiltration of the country” after being arrested along with veteran journalist Isa Saharkhiz last year by the intelligence unit of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), according to the Iranian Labour News Agency.
“Convicting journalists for ‘acting against national security’ underlines the need to change the overbroad laws that lead to the harassment and jailing of the media,” said the CPJ’s Sherif Mansour. “Iranian authorities must cease imprisoning journalists.”
President Rouhani, who criticised the journalists’ arrests, has called for greater media freedom in several speeches.