Middle East

Journalist Mosaed trapped in Turkey after fleeing Iran

Corruption cases have always interested the Iranian journalist Mohammad Mosaed, who has made them a focus of his reporting. But that has been his undoing in Iran. Because of his reporting, he was sentenced to several years in prison. Mosaed hoped to escape the prison sentence by fleeing to neighboring Turkey, but he now faces deportation back to his home country.

Mosaed has loved writing since he was a teenager, publishing his first story when he was 17 years old. This passion later became his profession. For a long time, he was a business correspondent for the Iranian newspapers Hamshahri and Shargh. He spent years investigating corruption in state institutions, banks and oil companies. His sources were partly industry insiders and partly ordinary citizens. After a while, his reputation was such that whistle-blowers approached him of their own accord, to share their experiences of corruption. Mosaed says that in Iran, it is not easy to protect these whistle-blowers.

In November 2017, Mosaed was arrested while reporting on nationwide protests in Iran. He had covered workers’ demonstrations as a journalist, and criticized the authorities’ blocking of the internet. Mosaed ended up in pretrial detention, where — according to his own statements — he endured illegal interrogation methods. He says that torture and mistreatment were customary in prison: “Detention can last several days. You are completely isolated. Sometimes you can’t see the sun for days, and there’s no fresh air. The guards use physical violence — sometimes just because they feel like it.” The psychological strain is enormous, not least because a detainee’s family members may be threatened or also taken into custody.

Escape to Turkey

Mosaed fled to Turkey, a decision he didn’t take lightly: “I did everything I could to stay in Iran.” He says he defended himself as best he could in court — without success. “After the court’s decision, I appealed, but to no avail. At some point, I realized the gravity of the situation: Even after my prison sentence, I would not have been able to work as a journalist for years. It would have meant the end of my professional career.”

In August 2020, the verdict was handed down: He was sentenced to four years and nine months in prison for “violating national security” and “propaganda against the regime.” He was banned from working for a further two years. “Journalists in Iran often face such punishments,” Mosaed says. He had to act. He fled on foot across the border to Turkey.

Multiple award winner

Mosaed’s journalism has won him awards in Iran, as well as an International Press Freedom Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Deutsche Welle’s Freedom of Speech Award. Following these international awards, Iranian authorities imposed an exit ban on him, making it impossible to leave the country legally. He packed a small bag, took some money and set off on foot. The journey was arduous, crossing mountains and hills. He walked through freezing weather for hours, getting lost several times. When he finally arrived in Turkey, he was so physically exhausted that he asked officials to take him to the nearest hospital.

Fear of deportation

Turkish authorities have threatened to deport Mosaed because he entered the country illegally. Mosaed tried to explain his problem to authorities, but the Turkish officials he spoke to did not understand Persian or English. Finally, he called a friend who helped him explain the situation. With the help of various journalists’ organizations, he managed to apply to the Turkish authorities for international protection. But he may still be deported — a decision in his case is pending.

He’s currently living somewhere in Turkey; for security reasons, he does not want his whereabouts to be known. His lawyer has advised him not to leave the house and to refrain from making public appearances until the application process is completed. A friend regularly delivers him food. But Mosaed is aware that his life cannot go on like this. Human rights organizations have reported several past instances where Iranian journalists who have fled to Turkey have been kidnapped by Iranian intelligence agents and taken back. “I am afraid,” Mohammad Mosaed says. For this reason, he is looking for ways to travel on to a third country, a place where he will no longer have to worry about his safety.

By Burcu Karakas, DW News

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