The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is urging Iran to stop its imprisonment and harassment of Kurdish journalists amid what human rights groups have denounced as a crackdown on members of the minority group.
In a statement late on May 12, the New York-based media-freedom watchdog cited news reports and sources familiar with the cases as saying that Iranian authorities had arrested at least eight Kurdish journalists since May 2020.
Three of them -- Navid Seyed-Mohammadi, Jafar Osafi, and Nasrullah Lashani -- remain in detention.
"Iranian authorities' targeting of Kurdish journalists adds a dimension of ethnic discrimination to the country's already dire campaign to imprison members of the press," CPJ Middle East and North Africa researcher Justin Shilad said.
"Authorities should drop all vague, trumped-up charges filed against Iranian-Kurdish journalists, and release all jailed journalists immediately," he added.
A lawyer representing several of the jailed journalists told CPJ that Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) was "very sensitive about Kurdish journalists and the topics they write about, especially if they write about unity of Iranian, Iraqi and Turkish Kurds, and other regional issues of Kurds."
The lawyer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also said that the authorities were "sensitive every time Kurdish journalists travel to Kurdish areas of Iraq such as Irbil. They closely monitor all movements across the border and any journalists' assembly."
CPJ's call comes three months after 36 civil society and human rights organizations denounced "an ongoing wave of arbitrary arrests, incommunicado detention, and enforced disappearances by the Iranian authorities" targeting Iran's "disadvantaged" Kurdish minority.
The groups said that at least 96 members of the community had been arrested since the beginning of the year, including civil society activists, environmentalists, writers, university students, and "individuals with no known history of activism."
Seyed-Mohammadi, a reporter for the state-run Islamic Republic Radio and Television broadcaster, was arrested by IRGC intelligence agents in the city of Piranshahr, West Azerbaijan Province, in May 2020 after returning from a trip to northern Iraq, CPJ quoted a person familiar with the case as saying.
The U.S.-based Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) reported that the journalist was charged with “espionage for hostile states” and sentenced in August to seven years in prison.
In June, the IRGC arrested Osafi, who ran the Telegram channel QandA, searched his house in the city of Bukan, West Azerbaijan, and confiscated electronic devices, according to the Iran-focused press-freedom group JournalismIsNotACrime .
He was transferred to a prison in the city of Urmia, where he remains, according to the exile-led Human Rights Organization in Iran.
CPJ could not determine whether the arrest and imprisonment of Seyed-Mohammadi and Osafi were direct retribution for their reporting.
In June 2020, IRGC agents also arrested Lashani, an independent Kurdish political reporter and commentator, after he returned from northern Iraq, the semiofficial Iranian Labor News Agency quoted his lawyer as saying.
He was first held at Tehran's Evin prison before being moved to a jail in Karaj Province, according to the report.
Lashani's lawyer said the detention related to charges relating to his writing and crossing the Iraqi border.
At least five other Iranian-Kurdish journalists served jail terms in 2020 and 2021 but have since been released, according to the CPJ.