By Amir Hossein Miresmaeili
May 27, 2021
Mohammad-Hossein Sodagar is one of many activists and journalists to have been flogged in recent years. A judge sentenced Sodagar, who was born in 1989 and is a resident of Khoy city in West Azerbaijan province, to flogging for “disseminating lies” on the Telegram channel Suzbaz News, and the punishment was carried out a year after the ruling.
International law and courts classify flogging as a form of torture, and most countries have removed it from their books, but it remains a dark stain on Iran’s human rights record. In fact, Iranian judges still hand down the inhumane punishment on a routine basis.
According to the media activist, who is also a poet, in addition to flogging, he has been banned from using social media and the Telegram channel for at least 18 months and has endured ongoing pressure and threats from the FATA, the Iranian cyber police.
Two years after his flogging, he talked to IranWire’s associate site Journalism is Not a Crime about his ordeal.
In 2017, Mohammad-Hossein Sodagar inquired about the qualifications of Majid Moghadam, who was a current member of Khoy City Council, and asked him to show the public his original doctoral degree and prove claims he made during his election campaign that he was a member of the “scientific elite.” These requests prompted the city councillor to bring a legal case against the journalist.
“I presented all my evidence to the court and proved that his election resume was false,” Sodagar told reporters. “For example, in his election campaign, he claimed that he was selected as a member of the scientific elite in 2016, and yet his name has never been mentioned in Scientific Elite Foundation materials. And he said that he had a doctorate and was a professor at Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran, and this was also a bizarre lie. His supporters appear to be very powerful. After about a year and a half, during which I was summoned to court several times, eventually in August 2018, Branch 103 of the Criminal Court 2 of Khoy found me guilty and the judge sentenced me to 74 lashes for spreading lies.
“I believe the ruling was also related to the fact that I did not cooperate with the security services,” he added. “I was asked to sign a pledge not to get involved in the council and presidential elections, which I did not do.”
The media activist went on to say that after the verdict was handed down, he was not in a position to appeal the ruling in court due to his mother being ill. As a result, the verdict was sent through for processing a few days later.
They Wanted to Crush My Character
“It was in the early hours of the morning of December 23, 2018 that police officers raided my mother’s house and arrested me to serve my sentence,” Mohammad-Hossein Sodagar said. My mother tried to stop the arrest, but they treated my sick mother harshly and aggressively, which made her very scared. They took me away in handcuffs and flogged me in court: 74 lashes. They wanted to humiliate me, and they succeeded.
“It was a very painful moment,” he said. “It is also difficult to express. More than physical pain and torture, it is the psychological torture that is upsetting. They wanted to crush my pride and character. I felt like a child being beaten by his father in front of others. It was scary and distressing … ”
Sodagar says the situation for journalists in small towns is much worse than that of journalists working in the capital’s popular newspapers and news agencies. “It is easier for security and judicial authorities to suppress local journalists because of less media coverage.”
Iraj Jamshidi, Siamak Ghaderi, Mazdak Ali Nazari, Rahman Bouzari, Shoja Hosseinzadeh, Amir Abbas Dehbashinejad, Hossein Movahedi, and Mohammad Reza Fathi are among the journalists who have been sentenced to flogging.
Sodagar told Journalism is not a Crime: “FATA police in West Azerbaijan province are constantly summoning and threatening us and telling us what to say and what not to say because we are not employees of any official media and we work independently and as freelancers; because we do not have institutions and people to support us.”
The ordeal may be over, but Mohammad-Hossein Sodagar says his harassment continues. “I have been sued twice in court and now I have another open case. In addition, I have been banned from working for more than 18 months now. I used to work at the non-profit Khoy University, where I was fired for criticizing the performance of Taghi Kabiri, a former Khoy member of parliament. So how should I live? Why can I not be a journalist? They say if I work reporting the news, I will be arrested.”
Sodagar says journalists working in smaller cities and towns don’t have to do much to get in trouble — if they do as much as criticize local officials, or joke about them in a satirical piece or poem, they will likely face threats, attacks, or arrest. Sometimes there are even killed.
Today, several journalists and media activists are facing flogging sentences. Their cases are either at the appellate court or at the implementation stage. In addition to the group listed above, the following journalists and activists have been handed down sentences to be lashed:
Kasra Nouri, 74 lashes
Mohammad Nourizadeh, 148 lashes
Marzieh Amiri, 148 lashes
In early May, students Milad Nazeri and Shabir Hosseini Nik were sentenced to 36 lashes each for their criticisms of a Telegram channel.