Iran’s conditional pardons for journalists not real clemency, says RSF
At least 12 Iranian journalists who were in prison or awaiting trial have been granted pardons, but most of them have had to undertake restrictive commitments to limit their future actions. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) regards these pardons as a new way of suppressing media freedom in Iran – one trying to pass itself off as clemency.
Five months after the start of the protests about Mahsa Amini’s death, these journalists received the pardons as part of an amnesty announced ahead of the Islamic Revolution’s 44th anniversary on 11 February. Nine of the journalists were in prison when they heard the news, while three others had been released conditionally pending trial.
Most of them had to submit to an ambiguous procedure. Hojjat al-Islam Rahimi, the deputy chief of Iran’s judiciary, imposed conditions on the pardons for those detained in connection with the Mahsa Amini’s protests. He said they could be pardoned only if “they express remorse for their past actions and undertake not to repeat them in the future” and he warned that they would face a harsher punished if they broke this undertaking. Several of the journalists had to sign pledges and “statements of remorse” in order to benefit from the pardon.
“Nothing has changed,” said Jonathan Dagher, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “These conditional pardons are nothing more than an illusion of clemency confirming that the Iranian authorities have in no way eased their policy of systematic persecution. The 12 pardoned journalists now have a threat constantly hanging over their heads, while hundreds of other journalists work in fear and 28 journalists remain in prison. A real act of clemency would be to free all detained journalists unconditionally and lift all restrictions on journalism.”
Those pardoned include Milad Alavi, a journalist with the daily newspaper Shargh who was arrested on 1 January and was released conditionally 15 days later. He confirmed on Twitter that he was made to sign an undertaking not to participate in “riots” or “illegal demonstrations” at the risk of being punished more severely.
The judicial status of the pardoned journalists varies. Freelancers Kianoosh Sanjari and Saba Shardoost were awaiting trial after being released conditionally when they discovered their names among those who had been pardoned.
Ehsan Pirbornash, the former editor of the sports magazine Bank Varzesh, who had been sentenced to 18 months in prison on 10 January, was released on 8 February. Masoud Kurdpour, the editor of the Mukrian News agency, was released from Bukan prison on 14 February after serving just three months of his 17-month sentence.
Three other journalists who had been arrested during the past three months – freelancers Mehdi Soufali and Hossein Yazdi and Iran Student News Agency photographer Aria Jafari – were pardoned and released but it was not clear whether all three had been made to sign undertakings or statements of remorse.
According to a survey by the newspaper Shargh, the statement signing process is arbitrary and varies according to the region, prison and individual concerned. In some cases, the statements have included an implicit admission of the charges brought against the detainee. After Shargh published this survey, the authorities denied that any pledges were signed, contradicting earlier statements.
Amnesty influenced by the protests
It has, however, been established that the three pardoned journalists who were jailed on 16 September 2022, before the start of the Mahsa Amini protests, did not have to sign any undertakings.
A joint letter by five women detainees who received pardons – including Noushin Jafari, an Etemad photographer held since February 2021, and Alieh Motalebzadeh, a Zanan photographer held since October 2020 – said, “the solidarity shown by the people and the freedom-loving youth in Iran is the main reason for the release of many political prisoners in recent days.”
The two photographers were pardoned on 10 February. Amirabbas Azaramvand – a business reporter for the daily newspaper Samt serving a sentence of four years and three months in prison since March 2022 – was pardoned two days later.
At least 60 journalists have been arrested since 16 September 2022, the date of the start of the protests about the young Kurdish Iranian woman Masha Amini’s death in police custody. Of the 28 journalists currently detained in Iran, eight were already in prison before the start of the protests. They include Narges Mohammadi, who was awarded the 2022 RSF Prize for Courage.
Currently the world’s fifth biggest jailer of journalists, Iran is ranked 178th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2022 World Press Freedom Index.