The crackdown has above all been prompted by online criticism of the slow pace with which the authorities have responded to massive flooding in around 25 provinces since 22 March. At least 76 people have died in this “unprecedented phenomenon,” according to the government.
Social networks have often been the only source of information for flood victims, but prosecutor-general Mohammad Jafar Montazeri announced on 28 March that “any posts on this subject will be regarded as attack on national security.”
The FTA (Iran’s cyber-police) announced on 13 April that 24 people had been arrested in the southern province of Khuzestan for “posting rumours and false information in order to confuse public opinion.”
Professional journalists, who are constantly exposed to harassment, have done their best to cover the crisis and some have accused the authorities of not being prepared for an emergency of this scale. Several reporters have been hounded by militias and Revolutionary Guards, and in some cases summoned for questioning, especially in Khuzestan province.
Intelligence operatives arrested Mohamad Reza Nasab Abdolahi, the editor of the Anar Press and Aban Press websites, on a street in the city of Anar on 21 April and searched his homes, confiscating his mobile phone and other personal items. His family do not know where or why he is being held. When Abdolahi was previously arrested in February 2005, he was sentenced to six months in prison and a fine of 1 million rials.
“The Iranian authorities continue to persecute journalists, even during an emergency of this scale when media coverage is essential for the affected population,” said Reza Moini, the head of RSF’s Iran desk.
Iran is ranked 170th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.