[JURIST] The Iranian government will set up a special court to try media and culture crimes, state news agency IRNA [official website, in Persian] reported Sunday. The judiciary has set up a special prosecutors office [AP report] to handle alleged offenses committed in media and cultural platforms. Both the court and office will operate under the supervision of Tehran's chief prosecutor. The head of Iran's Government Employees Court, Abbas Zagholi, said the new court is necessary because of advances in mass media [CNN report]. Opponents, however, worry that the new court will be used to crack down on dissidents. The new court is set to begin operations next month.
Iran has faced criticism in its efforts to control the media following the country's 2009 presidential election [JURIST news archive]. In September, Iranian blogger Hossein Derakhshan was sentenced to 19.5 years in prison [JURIST report] for charges stemming from his actions to popularize certain blogs as well as a five-year ban from membership in political parties and fines totaling close to USD $45,000. Media freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) [advocacy website] stated that it was the longest sentence ever imposed on a blogger in Iran and urged President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] to intercede. Also in September, journalist Shiva Nazar Ahari was sentenced to six years in prison [JURIST report] for charges including warring against God. In April, journalist Mohamad Nourizad was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison [JURIST report] and 50 lashes for charges stemming from his activities after the elections, including distributing propaganda. In May, RSF included Ayatollah Ali Khamenei [BBC profile] and Ahmadinejad in a report listing the 40 "Predators of Press Freedom" [JURIST report] in which Iran is referred to as "the Middle East's biggest prison for the media."