The arrest on 22 July of two journalists and a photographer, including the Tehran correspondent of the Washington Post and his Iranian wife, brings to 65 the number of news providers behind bars in Iran. They include 10 women, of whom three are foreign nationals, making Iran the world’s leading jailer of female journalists and netizens.
Reporters Without Borders is extremely concerned by this wave of summonses and arrests aimed mainly at women working in the media, seven of whom have received prison terms of between six months and 20 years.
The Washington Post’s correspondent Jason Rezaian, who has dual US and Iranian nationality, and his Iranian journalist wife Yeganeh Salehi were arrested at their Tehran home. Rezaian, 38, has been the Post’s correspondent in the Iranian capital since 2012. Salehi works for the newspaper The National, based in the United Arab Emirates.
A freelance Iranian-American photographer who works for various news organizations including the Washington Post was also arrested, together with her non-journalist husband. Her family did not want to disclose her identity. The whereabouts of the couple and the reasons for their arrest are not known.
Sajedeh Arabsorkhi was summoned on 18 July by the sentence enforcement court at Evin prison to begin serving a one-year prison term for anti-government propaganda. Since she returned to Iran last September, she has been called in for questioning several times by intelligence agents of the Revolutionary Guards.
“She was sentenced in absentia while she was living in France,” her mother said. “She left Iran legally, with no proceedings against her. The problems began on her return to the country.”
Sajedeh Arabsorkhi is the daughter of the former political prisoner Fazlollah Arabsorkhi, a leading member of an Iranian reformist party.
Marzieh Rasouli was taken back to prison on 8 July to serve a two-year custodial sentence and receive 50 lashes. On 21 June, Rihaneh Tabatabai, a former journalist with the daily Shargh sentenced to a year’s imprisonment, was also placed behind bars. Mahnaz Mohammadi, a journalist and documentary-maker, was admitted to prison on 7 June to begin a five-year sentence.
Reporters Without Borders is particularly worried about the fate of Saba Azarpeyk, a journalist for the monthly Téjarat-é-Farda and the daily newspaper Etemad, who was arrested on 28 May. Where she is being held and on whose authority she was arrested have not been made known, in breach of national and international laws. Her trial took place on 20 and 21 July in a Tehran revolutionary court, in the absence of her legal representive.
Her lawyer said he was not informed of the date of the hearing, but he understood the trial was linked to a prior arrest. Azarpeyk was one of the victims of “Black Sunday”, a repressive operation in January 2013 against media workers in which 19 journalists were arrested.
According to information received by Reporters Without Borders, the journalist has come under extreme pressure because of her investigations into news organizations that are run and financed by the Revolutionary Guards and agents of the ministry of intelligence.
The two security organizations, which are close to Iran’s judicial authorities, have kept the journalist in solitary confinement at a secret location for the past 50 days, in breach of all national and international laws. Her family were allowed to see her briefly during her trial and were shocked at her weakened physical and mental condition.
Foreign nationals in prison
Three of the 10 women news providers currently in prison in Iran are foreign nationals, including the American photographer arrested on 22 July.
Roya Saberi Negad Nobakht, who has dual British and Iranian nationality, and Farideh Shahgholi, a German-Iranian netizen, were arrested for their activities on social media, including Facebook. Up to now, neither the British nor German authorities have made official statements about the detentions.
Nobakht, 47, has been held in custody since October last year and was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment by a Tehran revolutionary court on 27 May this year on charges of “plotting to commit crimes against security and insulting Islam” for writing on Facebook that everything in Iran was “too Islamic”.
On the same day, seven other netizens were given prison sentences, including Naghmeh Shahi Savandi Shirazi, jailed for seven years and 91 days.
Shahgholi began a three-year sentence on 22 May. Having lived in Germany for 25 years, she was arrested in 2011 during a visit to relatives in Iran. She was charged with anti-government publicity and insulting Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei for comments she made on Facebook, and was unlawfully convicted by the Tehran Revolutionary Court.
“With 65 journalists and netizens in prison, Iran is still one of the world’s biggest prisons for people working in the media,” said Reza Moïni, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan desk. “The country is also the leading jailer of women journalists and netizens. The justice authorities, in collusion with the Revolutionary Guards and the ministry of intelligence, flout the rights of women who work in the media.
“Nothing came of President Hassan Rohani’s promises to free all prisoners of conscience. His silence makes it easier to crack down on freedom of information. It is his duty to ensure the constitution is applied and he is responsible for the fate of everyone on Iranian soil.”
Iran is one of the world’s most repressive countries as regards freedom of information. It is ranked 173rd of 180 countries in the 2014 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders.