TEHRAN, Iran — The head of Iran’s reformist newspaper Shargh was arrested after residents of a major northeastern city accused the paper of defamation over a report on “prostitution” there, Iranian media said Sunday.
Mehdi Rahmanian was “summoned [by the courts] after a complaint by a group of residents of the Shahid Rajai neighborhood of Mashhad,” the semi-official ISNA news agency reported, quoting the city’s deputy prosecutor Hassan Heydari.
“The newspaper had described some of the district’s women as prostitutes.”
Mashhad’s Khorassan newspaper said Rahmanian had been detained after failing to pay bail set at 500 million riyals (around $9,000).
Shargh on April 8 published a report on the murder of a 6-year-old Afghan girl in the impoverished Shahid Rajai district of Mashhad, the second-largest city in Iran.
The article quoted an official from an association for children and poor people who said the district was home to several brothels and that drugs were sold there.
Khorassan said the article had provoked an angry protest by residents in front of the local mosque three days later.
Heydari said the prosecution had asked Rahmanian to “take action” against the journalist and “repair” the damage caused but measures were not taken.
Like other reformist newspapers, Shargh returned to the shelves in late 2012 after being banned for several years.
It is one of the main reformist newspapers and a key supporter of President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate conservative elected to a second term in 2017.
Since taking office, Rouhani has been the target of intense criticism by ultra-conservatives, who dominate the judiciary and the security services.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.