July 7, 2021

By Bill Bostock

Iran imprisoned a journalist for reporting on the true extent of the country’s COVID-19 outbreak, according to free-press watchdogs.

Shahram Safari, a Kurdish freelance reporter, was sentenced to three months in prison on June 16 by a municipal court in Kermanshah, western Iran, according to the Human Rights Activists News Agency.

Safari ran the local news Telegram channel, “Rawezh Press,” in which he documented the number of COVID-19 cases in Iran, HRANA said.

In mid-April, Safari was charged with crimes related to “spreading lies, disturbing public opinion, providing a negative portrait of the clergy, and publishing the statistics of the number of positive Coronavirus cases,” HRANA said.

The charges apparently stemmed from a April 7 lawsuit filed by the state-run Kermanshah University of Medical Sciences.

The university said that Safari was posting inaccurate coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic on Telegram, according to the International Federation of Journalists.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said last month that it could not establish whether Safari, who is from the city of Sarpol Zahab, has lodged an appeal or started his sentence.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Iran has been accused of hiding the true number of COVID-19 cases and deaths.

A BBC investigation published last August found that the Iranian government had identified 42,000 COVID-19 deaths between January 22, 2020, and July 20, 2020, but the country’s health ministry only reported 14,405.

Insider is covering Safari’s case in conjunction with The One Free Press Coalition, which raises awareness of the world’s persecuted journalists.