A Newsweek reporter said Tuesday that the Iranian government is attempting to frighten people from protesting or reporting on the June 12 anniversary of the disputed presidential elections by sentencing him in absentia to 13 years in prison and 74 lashes.
"They want to scare as many people as possible in order to prevent people from coming to the streets," said journalist Maziar Bahari. The dual Canadian and Iranian citizen spoke to The Associated Press in a telephone interview from London.
Bahari said a series of judgments against those involved in protests in May was intended to have a chilling affect on possible protests on the anniversary of last year's elections. He also said he had received threatening anonymous telephone calls about a month before the sentencing by the Iranian Revolutionary Court on Sunday.
"You have to fear for your safety," he said on Tuesday, adding he could not stop living a normal life because of the threats.
He also said that he would not appeal the court's decision. "I didn't send my lawyer even to the court's hearing. I don't recognize the court as legal. I don't want to give it any credence," he said, adding that family members attended the hearing and told him about the judgment.
Bahari was among scores of political activists and other figures detained amid a crackdown following disputed presidential elections last year. He spent nearly four months in jail but was released on bail of 3 billion rials ($300,000) and allowed to leave the country to join his British wife in London in October.
"I feel lucky I'm in London and can laugh about it. But it saddens me that so many people in Iran have to go through this," he said, referring to the sentencing of colleagues and other activists in recent months. "They have to suffer for this because a group of absurdly ignorant people are leading the country."
In December, two journalists, Hengameh Shahidi and Saeed Laylaz, were sentenced to prison terms on anti-state accusations, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. An accurate tally of the number of people who had been arrested and sentenced for their participation in last year's protests was impossible to determine, Bahari said.
"We know about some of the more high-profile cases, but many people have been sentenced in small towns," he said.
The journalist said in an article published this week in Newsweek that the sentence was handed down Sunday on charges including assembling and conspiring against state security, collecting secret and classified documents, propagandizing against the system and insulting the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
He said he also was sentenced to one year and 74 lashes for "disruption of public order."
On Tuesday, he said that among the many "ridiculous" accusations, a government interrogator had shown him a picture of Ahmadinejad that someone had posted on his Facebook page that showed the president kissing a young man. "They say, because the picture appeared on my Facebook, I was implying that Ahmadinejad was gay."
Bahari said he was unable to explain to the interrogator how Facebook users can post on each other's pages. "He didn't know what Facebook was, he didn't know what Facebook 'Wall' was. It was a useless conversation," he said.
Bahari was arrested on June 21 as part of a clampdown on street protests by hundreds of thousands of Iranians against the June 12 vote.
"A wave of judgments like the one against me, coming on the eve of the first anniversary of the election, appears aimed at discouraging people from taking part in new mass demonstrations aimed condemning the re-election of Ahmadinejad and the repression that followed," he wrote.
The CPJ condemned the sentence.
"The conviction is a reminder to us that the dozens of Iranian journalists who remain in jail are at the mercy of a cruel and vindictive regime," CPJ's regional coordinator Mohamed Abdel Dayem said in a statement.
Sunday's sentencing occurred on the same day that five Kurdish activists were hanged following their conviction of membership of armed opposition groups and involvement in bombings.
The five were sentenced to death in 2008 after they were found guilty of "Moharebeh," a term Iran uses to describe a major crime against Islam and the state.
Opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi was quoted as warning the executions were part of an "unfair trend" against activists following the election.
Source: AP News