Iranian repression surpassed itself in run-up to elections: an entire newsroom sequestered, and two journalists still forcibly disappeared

Iranian security forces sequestered the newsroom of Farda-e-Eghtesad for four days, before detaining four of its journalists in an unknown location on 9 February. Although the release of Behzad Bahmannejad and Merghad Asgari was publicly announced on 21 February, Nikan Khabazi and Ali Tasnimi are still being held.  Reporters without borders (RSF) sounds the alarm on the escalating repression against journalists in a climate of secrecy, ahead of the legislative elections in Iran. The journalists must be released at once.

Update 11/04/24: Nikan Khabazi was released on bail on March 18, 2024. Ali Tasnimi was released on bail on April 10, 2024, more than two months after the sequestration of his editorial office and his arrest.

On 21 February, news was made public of the release on bail  in Tehran, a week earlier, of two journalists from the economic newspaper Farda-e-Eghtesad: video-journalist Mehrdad Asgari, and deputy editor-in-chief Behzad Bahmannejad. Iranian authorities had liberated the two reporters on 16 February but instructed them not to comment on their detention, RSF’s sources say. Meanwhile, still no news of their two colleagues, Nikan Khabazi and Ali Tasnimi, who were arrested with them on 9 February and taken to an unknown location. Iranian officials have still made no official statement as to their whereabouts.  

This dreadful story began on Monday 5 february when a dozen police officers raided the newsroom of the four journalists, detaining them alongside 26 of their colleagues in the building. No one was allowed to leave the building before the next day, and some of the staff remained sequestered for four days, until 9 February, when the four journalists were taken.  The police gave no reason for the detention. The personnel in the media outlet had their phones confiscated and were prevented from communicating with their families and legal representatives.

“Despite the good news of the release of Behzad Bahmannejad and Merghad Asgari, the secretive detention of their colleagues Nikan Khabaz, and Ali Tasnimi in unknown circumstances following the sequestration of Farda-e-Eghtesad's staff amounts to an enforced disappearance. These mob-like tactics of intimidation and terror are part of a continuing effort on behalf of the authorities to silence Iran’s journalists, and must not be allowed to continue. We call on the immediate liberation of the two reporters of Farda-e-Eghtesad as well as all 15 other journalists currently detained in Iran.

Jonathan Dagher
Head of the Middle East desk at RSF

The day after the raid, the Mizan News Agency, which is overseen by the Iranian judiciary, had announced that  "the judicial officer's inspection of the media premises and the arrests had nothing to do with journalistic and media activities," without stating a reason. According to RSF’s information, the sequestration and detention of the staff follows its publication of a video report – since deleted – pertaining to the subject of evading sanctions. Details about the video’s exact publication, contents, and deletion remain ambiguous. Speaking on condition of anonymity, one of the journalists who were sequestered told RSF that police asked staff members questions about Majid Zamani, the founder and former member of a financial institution which owns the newspaper. 

Iranian authorities regularly arrest reporters who reveal sensitive – but of public interest – information to the world. On 22 and 29 September 2022, journalists Niloofar Hamedi and Elaheh Mohammadi were respectively detained and locked up for more than a year, for being among the first reporters to cover the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody on 16 September 2022. Since then, 87 other reporters were detained for covering the protest movement that followed the death of the young Kurd. Fifteen of them remain in prison to this day.

177/ 180
Score : 24.81
Published on
Updated on 11.04.2024