Iranian Whistle-Blower Sentenced For Revealing Shopping Trip By Speaker's Family

A whistle-blower has been sentenced to two years in prison and banned from media-related activities after he revealed details of a controversial shopping trip by the family of Iranian parliamentary Speaker Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf.

Activist Vahid Ashtari, who published the report on the extravagant shopping spree that triggered sharp criticism since it came at a time when many Iranians are failing to make ends meet, tweeted an image of the court verdict regarding his case on July 21.

According to the verdict, Ashtari must also shut down all of his social-media pages.

Ashtari said the case was filed at the same time as the indictment, while the investigator issued an indictment without accepting any documents or a final defense.

The affair stems from an April social-media post in which Ashtari published photos that showed some members of Qalibaf's family returning from a trip to Turkey with around 20 large pieces of luggage, including a high-end baby carriage.

After the post, another journalist in Turkey reported that during the trip, Qalibaf's wife bought two apartments in Istanbul for some $1.6 million.

Qalibaf’s supporters claimed the uproar over the trip was orchestrated by hard-liners who wanted to push him out of the powerful post he holds. Ashtari is reported to have ties with Saeed Jalili, an ultra-conservative hard-liner who was Iran's top nuclear negotiator under former President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

In response to the criticism, Qalibaf claimed in a closed session of parliament on April 30 that he had been "against" the family trip to Turkey from the beginning.

His family has claimed a "security clique" was behind the reports and an attempt to portray Qalibaf in a bad light.

Hard-liners have gained a foothold in Iranian politics during the past year, taking control of the presidency and parliament. But there has been mounting evidence of divisions within their ranks and some Iran watchers say the arrest of Ashtari and other social media administrators could be a sign of an internal power struggle.

Iranian authorities have blocked most social-media sites and apps, including Telegram. But many Iranians continue to use the banned platforms.

With writing and reporting by Ardeshir Tayebi