Yashar Soltani, the editor of Memari News, an architecture and urban development website, was arrested on 17 September after publishing a letter that showed the office of Tehran’s mayor had sold or relinquished public land and apartments worth up to £500m to officials and members of the municipal council under extraordinary discounts and other favourable arrangements.
Soltani’s arrest came after the mayor of Tehran, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, an influential politician with a military background, and Mehdi Chamran, the chair of Tehran’s city council, filed a suit against him. Judiciary officials later said he was arrested for publishing classified documents although others have questioned the veracity of the claim, saying that Memari News merely published what had been leaked and that it did not have any secret information.
Soltani’s detention, however, has brought the issue to the forefront of public consciousness in Iran. Before his arrest, the journalist was only known among the elites, particularly by those following architecture news, but his investigations and subsequent arrest have touched a nerve, prompting huge reactions across Iran.
The revelations have embarrassed Ghalibaf, who has presidential ambitions and has put his name on the list as a candidate in the past. He has largely been seen as a successful mayor, transforming the city and pursuing ambitious plans, such as commissioning bold architecture in recent years.
The leaks also impacted a number of municipal council members who were later named as the beneficiaries of the sale. The letter was written by the national inspection office, tasked with policing corruption in state sector, and was addressed to a senior official at the mayor’s office, stating that the sale was illegal and giving an ultimatum for further clarifications.
“Tehran’s municipality has suffered losses of around 1.5tr rials [about £33m] as the result of granting unfair and discriminatory concessions,” the letter reads. It says that some beneficiaries received discounts of up to 50% on prices that had been undervalued in the first place.
“Yashar Soltani is in jail merely for doing his job as a journalist and is now in Evin prison for revealing corruption in the municipality under Ghalibaf,” tweeted one Iranian.
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