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September 21, 2016 - Updated on September 27, 2016

Hassan Rouhani at the UN: RSF condemns Iranian President’s inaction

On the eve of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s visit to New York for the 71st United Nations General Assembly, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reiterates its condemnation of Iran’s harassment of print and online media outlets and the recent arrests of three journalists.

In the past week, at least two journalists have been arrested and others have been threatened by the judicial apparatus, which is controlled the Supreme Leader and the ministry of intelligence.


The latest victim is Sadra Mohghgh, a journalist in charge of coverage of social issues at the daily newspaper Shargh, who was arrested by intelligence officials at his Tehran home on 19 September.


His arrest was reported briefly by the semi-official news agency Maehnews, which described him as an “element in contact with counter-revolutionary media who sent reports about the country’s internal situation.” In the past few weeks, he had published several stories about a case of corruption at Tehran’s city hall.


Yashar Soltani, the editor of the Memarinews.com online newspaper, was the first journalist to be jailed for covering the case, which involves the sale of land and apartments by the city hall to senior government officials and members of the municipal council.


Soltani was jailed on 17 September after being summoned to the culture and media court for non-payment of the large amount of bail that had demanded in return for his release. He was first summoned by the court on 29 August, just hours after his website posted several documents revealing the details of the sales.


The website was closed indefinitely the same day by the Committee for Determining Content that Constitutes Internet Crime, which is headed by the prosecutor-general.


The Committee went on to block the Puyesh and 9sobh news sites and the Mojnews and Bornanews news agencies on 5 September because they had relayed the corruption story reports or had criticized the inconsistencies of the judicial system’s attempts to combat corruption. They were unblocked a week later.


Hassan Rouhani is reaching the end of his term as president and is attending the UN General Assembly for the last time,” said Reza Moini, the head of RSF’s Iran/Afghanistan desk. “He did not keep his election promise to promote freedom of expression and the media. The level of freedom of information in Iran is still deplorable and is declining even more as a result of the threat of war and corruption.


Moini added: “The judicial system and the Revolutionary Guards, which get their orders from the Supreme Leader, persecute independently reported news and information. Rouhani, who is supposed to guarantee implementation of the Iranian constitution, could have put an end to this unacceptable situation, but he did not. He preferred to concentrate on opening Iran’s markets to foreign trade instead of opening its prisons.”


Journalists unjustly convicted, denied medical care in prison

The journalist Foad Sadeghi was arrested by plainclothesmen in Tehran on 28 August. No official reason was given but it could be to serve a prison sentence. An adviser to former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and onetime editor of the Ayandeh News and Baztab Emrooz websites (closed in 2009 and 2013 respectively), he was previously arrested in 2009 and 2013 for covering corruption cases involving President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s administration and was released provisionally


The lawyers of jailed independent journalist Issa Saharkhiz were told on 17 September that his three-year jail sentence has been reduced to 21 months. One of his lawyers, Mahmoud Alizadeh-Tabatabaie, had reported on 9 August that Saharkhiz had been sentenced to two years in prison for anti-government propaganda and one year for insulting Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.


He was convicted in connection with an article about his previous spells in prison (from 2009 to 2013) in which he wrote that his fellow inmates had baptised the cell where they played cards and backgammon as the “Seide Ali Casino.” This was interpreted as an insulting allusion to Khamenei.


The former editor of several reformist newspapers, Saharkhiz was one of several journalists arrested on 2 November 2015. Since 10 March, he has been hospitalized under surveillance in Tehran.


The sentence of another of the victims of the November 2015 wave of arrests, Afarin Chitsaz, was reduced by a Tehran appeal court on 7 September from ten years in prison to two years in prison and a two-year ban on working as a journalist after release. Two other journalists, Ehssan Mazndarani and Saman Safarzai, were sentenced to seven and five years in prison respectively. An appeal court reduced the sentences to two years.


These imprisoned journalists are ill, as are other detained journalists such as Mohammad Sedegh Kabodvand, Narges Mohammadi and Roya Saberi Negad Nobakht. But the authorities refuse to release them, thereby denying them access to appropriate medical care.


Iran is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which regards depriving detainees of medical care as a violation of the ban on torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.


The Iranian authorities do not respect international human rights law. In his opening address to the UN Human Rights Council on 13 September, UN high commissioner for human rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein condemned Iran’s refusal to cooperate in any way with the Council’s “special procedures.”


In May 2011, the Council appointed Ahmed Shaheed as special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran but the Iranian authorities never allowed him to visit the country. Shaheed was replaced as special rapporteur by the lawyer Asma Jahangir at the end of last month.


Iran is ranked 169th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.