CHRI – Husband Pressured to Confess to Espionage
Formerly imprisoned photojournalist Asal Esmailzadeh was “suddenly” arrested without charge while accompanying her husband to the Culture and Media Court in Tehran on June 19, 2017, Saeed Seif told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).
Seif, the editor-in-chief of the Didban reformist news website, told CHRI that he does not know why his wife was arrested despite making inquiries and that she is being held in an undeclared location by the judiciary’s security branch.
“The only thing that crosses my mind is that both of us were part of Rouhani’s media team,” he said.
“Last week I was questioned for several hours,” he added. “The bottom line was that the investigators wanted me to confirm that I had cooperated with the (pro-Rouhani) Amad News site and received money from Rouhani’s chief of staff and his government’s spokesman for the purpose of sending confidential news abroad.”
“I rejected all these accusations,” said Seif. “I said, ‘you are implying I was spying.’ I did not cooperate with Amad News and I was not paid to send confidential information abroad.”
“The investigators had no proof to back up their accusations,” he added.
CHRI has also learned that several other reformist journalists and media advisers who worked for newly re-elected President Hassan Rouhani’s election campaign were summoned for questioning in June 2017, the month after the May 19 election.
Asked about the circumstances surrounding his wife’s arrest, Seif said he was told during the previous week by Judge Bijan Ghasemzadeh of Branch 2 of the Culture and Media Court to come to his office on June 19 for a “chat.”
“Even though I was not issued a warrant, I thought it would be less trouble if I went and answered a few questions,” he said. “I went with my wife, Asal, who sat in the hallway.”
“When I went inside the courtroom, I noticed they had opened a case against me and bail was set at 300 million tomans ($92,500 USD),” he said. “I went out to the hallway and told Asal to arrange payment to cover the bail, which she did and came back.”
Continued Seif: “Then the judge told me to confirm in writing that my rights as a citizen had been observed and I had been informed of the charges against me. But I responded that I was not informed of the charges against me and my rights were violated because I was not issued a summons. I came here for a chat.”
“Then Judge Ghasemzadeh suddenly ordered my wife’s arrest,” added Seif. “He said she should have been detained earlier.”
He continued: “My protests were in vain and they arrested Asal. In the end, the judge said, ‘You’ll eventually cooperate with us.’ Then Asal was taken away and I was taken to my office at Didban where agents carried out a search and took away a laptop. Then they went to Asal’s father’s house and searched it as well.”
Esmailzadeh works as a photojournalist for her husband’s news website.
In 2009 she campaigned for former presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, who has been under extrajudicial house arrest for more than six years for peacefully challenging that year’s election result.
In 2012 she was issued a four-month prison sentence and an eight-month suspended prison sentence for “propaganda against the state” and “participating in illegal gatherings” by Judge Yahya Pirabassi of Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court.
She was released from prison in March 2013 after serving the sentence.