The following article was written by an Iranian citizen journalist on the ground inside the country, who writes under a pseudonym to protect her identity.
Sadra Mohaghegh, the society editor of the reformist newspaper Shargh, was arrested at his home on the morning of September 19. He is the second journalist to have been arrested in September. Yashar Soltani, editor-in-chief of Memari (“Architecture”) News, was arrested at the beginning September. Contrary to official claims, reports suggest that both were detained after they disclosed Tehran’s city government involvement in corrupt housing and land deals.
Mohaghegh is a well-known reporter on social affairs. He publishes regular criticism about city government and management — and recently, his work has focused particularly on Tehran Municipality’s approval of illegal construction in the capital and the destruction of historical buildings and sites.
In the past month Mohaghegh and Memari News published reports and tweeted about corruption at city government level related to land-grabs and reduced mortgage deals for some local politicians. Mohaghegh has more than 27,000 followers on Twitter, so the news was circulated widely outside traditional media.
IranWire reported that Iran’s Working Group for Identifying Criminal Content blocked at least five websites on September 4, after blocking another website a few days before. At least two of the banned sites had reported on allegations that officials had benefited from a corrupt housing scheme.
Mohaghegh’s arrest was carried out by plainclothes agents who gave no explanation for their actions. An hour after the arrest, Mehr News Agency defense correspondent Javad Bakhshi Alamuti reported that security agents had arrested the journalist for cooperating with “counter-revolutionary” media outside Iran. The agency has close links to conservative politicians at Tehran Municipality,
The news that some municipal officials and Tehran City councillors had profited from corrupt land deals and reduced mortgages emerged after a group of hardliner politicians complained about the “astronomical” salaries of some high government officials. Tehran’s Mayor, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, announced that he would order an investigation into the salaries. The so-called “astronomical properties case” is now under investigation by Iran’s General Inspection Organization.
Ghalibaf also wrote a letter to the head of the judiciary, demanding that those who were responsible for reporting on the scandal be prosecuted.
Among those named in the disclosures are five principalist members of Tehran’s City Council, a deputy mayor and a city council advisor. Now the mayor finds himself at the center of a widely-reported corruption case, which, in addition to implicating the seven prominent individuals, also raises speculation about 100 legal entities and around 150 senior municipal officials based outside city government.
The reformist newspaper Shargh and the website Memari News had both reported that on August 8, the General Inspection Organization wrote to Mohammad Javad Shushtari, director-general of the mayor’s office, submitting a detailed report about the land deals. The letter points to the illegal nature of the land sales to a large number of high-level city officials, members of the city council, a number of representatives to parliament and other individuals connected to other local governments outside Tehran. It stated that all the listed parties had benefited from significant discounts on housing and land deals — discounts that were ordered from the mayor himself.
The letter outlined that, based on the price of around $640 per square meter — a price which would be even higher for the more expensive neighborhoods of Tehran — more than $700 million had been squandered.
Considering the mayor’s alleged involvement in the scheme, the arrest of Sadra Mohaghegh and Yashar Soltani seem to be a direct retaliation for recent reports. Regardless of any official charges, the journalists have annoyed one of Iran’s most influential politicians, and they are paying for it.
Zohreh Zolghadr, Citizen Journalist, Tehran