Shortly after Revolutionary Guard plainclothesmen arrested four journalists at their homes and took them to an unknown location on 2 November, the Revolutionary Guard news agencies Tasnim and Fars reported the arrests of “members of an illegal network linked with the governments of the US and Britain who were active in Iranian media.”
The arrests follow several recent addresses by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, including one on 16 September to Revolutionary Guard commanders, in which he warned against “political and cultural” infiltration by the United States.
The four journalists arrested on 2 November were Afarine Chitsaz of the daily Iran, Ehssan Mazandarani, the editor of the daily Farhikhteghan, Saman Safarzai of the monthly Andisher Poya and Issa Saharkhiz, a well-known independent journalist who used to edit several reformist newspapers.
Although there has been no official statement about their arrests, Revolutionary Guard media outlets such as the Tasnim and Fars news agencies and the national radio and TV broadcaster reported their arrests before they were confirmed by the families.
In their reports, these media outlets referred to their previous arrests in 2009 and said the charges against them included “implication in an enemy infiltration plan,” “activities against national security” and “relations with foreign journalists.”
This is not the first time that Iranian journalists have been the victims of the Supreme Leader’s paranoia and in-fighting among the ruling elite’s various factions. In April 2000, Khamenei ordered a crackdown on the reformist press that emerged after Mohammad Khatami’s election as president in 1997.
Since then, more than 300 media outlets have been closed after being branded as “the operational base of 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.
Such paranoid discoveries of “spies” and “espionage networks” occur with tragically comic regularity in the run-up to elections.
The Iranian authorities, especially the Supreme Leader, must stop these flagrant violations of freedom of information, which contravene article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is party.