Iran sentences exiled Instagram couple to 16 years

The couple say they left for Turkey due to harassment from authorities

FILE PHOTO: An Iranian couple is seen following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Tehran, Iran, April 30, 2020. WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Ali Khara via REUTERS/File Photo
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Iran has sentenced an exiled husband and wife to a total of 16 years in jail over their popular Instagram accounts where they have a collective 1.5 million followers.

The couple announced late last month that a court in Iran had issued the sentence that also included 74 lashes for "propaganda against the regime", "obscene and vulgar", Radio Farda reported.

The couple, Ahmad Moin-Shirazi and Shabnam Shahrokhi, say they left Iran last September after being summoned to the Intelligence Ministry on numerous occasions where they were accused of espionage and other crimes.

Radio Farda reported that Mr Moin-Shirazi, a former world kickboxing champion

known by the handle Picasso Moin, was sentenced to nine years in jail while Ms Shahrokhi was handed seven years in prison, 74 lashes and ordered to carry out three months of community service.

The pair say they were told not to post political views or photos in which Ms Shahrokhi appeared without a hijab.

Iran last year announced a ban on Instagram in the country despite President Hassan Rouhani having a verified account with over 2 million followers. Likewise, Twitter is forbidden in the country despite senior officials – including Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – having accounts.

Iran has also targeted numerous online personalities from the country and travellers.

Fatemeh Khishvand, better known as her online name Sahar Tabar who posted heavily made-up images of herself looking like a zombie, was arrested in late 2019 and her lawyer said in April that she had contracted the coronavirus in prison. Several other online personalities were arrested in the days after Ms Khishvand was detained.

Last October, Iran released Australian travel bloggers Jolie King and Mark Firkin after three months in the notorious Evin prison. The pair were detained for spying and later released after negotiations with the Australian government.