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January 26, 2016 - Updated on May 13, 2016

7 questions for Hassan Rouhani if you run into him

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani arrives tomorrow in Paris for an official visit and will give a news conference on 28 January. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) suggests a few questions that could be put to him.

1/ You promised a change “in favour of free speech and media freedom” and you undertook to “free all political prisoners.” Why is Iran still one of the world’s five biggest prisons for journalists?

A total of 20 professional journalists and as many non-professional journalists are currently detained in Iran in connection with their reporting. Since Rouhani’s election as president on 14 June 2013, at least 50 journalists have been arrested, mostly by the Revolutionary Guards, and some have received long jail terms. Eleven newspapers have been closed.

2/ You are guarantor of the Iranian constitution, which says that “publications and newspapers are free to express all opinions except those that perturb the bases of Islam and public decency.” Why don’t you enforce it?

Article 24 of Iran’s constitution guarantees media freedom. Iran is nonetheless ranked 173rd out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. As official guarantor of the constitution’s implementation, Rouhani could end this unacceptable state of affairs. No fewer than nine official entities in Iran are tasked with carrying out censorship that is clearly unconstitutional.

3/ How is it that the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, has never given a news conference and never given any interviews?

Aside from a few words as he left hospital in September 2014, Ali Khamenei has never answered questions from journalists. The Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader since June 1989 demonizes the traditional media and new media. More than 300 media outlets have been closed for supposedly being “foreign enemies within the country,” thousands of websites have been censored and more than 500 journalists and Internet activists have been arbitrarily arrested, tortured and given long jail sentences. Khamenei describes Iran as the world’s freest country, but he has never agreed to an interview, not even for his own website.

4/ The United States may obviously have a hand in destabilization operations in Iran but why do you systematically regard all critical journalists as western spies and traitors?

Journalists who are arrested and jailed in Iran are usually charged with “spying,” “collaborating with foreign states,” participating in “enemy infiltration plans,” “actions against national security” or “contacts with foreign journalists.” The threat of such paranoid accusations, which allow the authorities to carry out “preventive arrests,” are also used to silence Iranian journalists and intellectuals.

5/ When will you ask parliament to amend the media law, which obliges journalists to act as government propagandists?

The 1986 media law (which was amended in 2000 and 2009 to take account of online publications) allows the authorities to verify that journalists do not “threaten the Islamic Republic,” “insult the Supreme Leader” or “disseminate false information.” This law clearly violates article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

6/ Tehran’s Evin prison is a place where human rights and civil rights are not respected. When do you plan to end this state of affairs?

Evin prison is one of the world’s worst detention centres, comparable to the Santiago de Chile stadium in 1973 and the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. Two special security wings in Evin – Section 209 and Section 240 – are controlled respectively by the intelligence ministry and the Revolutionary Guards. In violation of Iran’s law, the names of those held in these special wings, who include several journalists, do not appear in the official prison registers. The prison’s director is not even allowed to visit these wings.

7/ You have replaced the “Halal Internet” by “intelligent filtering” but in practice the situation has not changed and the Internet continues to be controlled. When will restrictions be lifted on Internet access?

The relaxation in Internet surveillance and control since the end of the Ahmadinejad era is just a facade. The creation of a “Halal Internet” has simply been replaced by “intelligent filtering”, which provides only selective and controlled access to the Internet and above all to social networks. Censorship, which is officially supposed to protect the public from immoral content, has been extended to political content, information about religion, and websites covering human rights and women’s rights.