August 29, 2012 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Open letter from Reporters Without Borders to Ban-Ki-moon on the occasion of his visit to Iran

Ban Ki-moon


United Nations

New York

United States

Paris, 29 August 2012

Dear Secretary-General,

As you prepare to attend the summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Tehran on 30 and 31 August, Reporters Without Borders wishes to draw your attention to the woeful state of freedom of information in Iran, and to the repression suffered by journalists, netizens and Iranian civil society as a whole.

Our organization, which campaigns for freedom of news and information, notes that since the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad in June 2009, bloggers and new media organizations have joined traditional journalists among those classified as “enemies of the government’ and subjected to regular censorship and surveillance.

While the government has been organizing the summit, the crackdown on the media has intensified. Several Iranian journalists have been prevented from covering the meeting and the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance has issued an official decree ordering media outlets “to avoid mentioning internal problems in the presence of foreign guests” and proclaiming: “All newspapers must actively promote the summit.” Accredited journalists have been instructed “not to ask any questions that embarrass the government”.

On two occasions last year, 14 March and 17 October, you expressed concern about reports of the “increased number of executions, amputations, arbitrary arrests and detentions, unfair trials, torture and ill-treatment, particularly the crackdown on human rights activists, lawyers, journalists and opposition activists” in Iran. We welcome your stand on this issue.

Since then, human rights have unfortunately steadily deteriorated. Summonses and arbitrary arrests of journalists and netizens by the Intelligence Ministry and the Revolutionary Guards are still going on. Detainees in the country’s prisons, such as Evin and Rajaishahr, continue to be ill-treated.

With 26 media workers and 18 netizens in prison, Iran has the world’s second largest number of journalists behind bars, after China.

The lives of a number of imprisoned journalists and netizens who are ill and weak, physically and psychologically, are a cause for concern. They are in constant danger, as confirmed in letters written by detainees’ families to Ahmed Shaheed, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran. Although Mr. Shaheed has a mandate from the UN Human Rights Council, the Iranian authorities have said they will not allow him to enter Iran.

Your spokesman, Martin Nesirky, has said that “by going he is making the extent of international concern all that much clearer”. However, there is no doubt that the Islamic Republic will take advantage of regional tension and the talks on its nuclear program to distract attention from the seriousness of its human rights abuses, as it has done for years.

This summit provides an opportunity for talks with Iranian authorities on the issue of respect for basic rights and the release of jailed journalists and bloggers, in parallel with discussions on Iran’s nuclear program.

We wish to convey our serious concern about the following:

1)The conviction and imprisonment of women journalists and netizens

The Islamic Republic of Iran holds the dubious record of the country with the most convictions of women journalists and bloggers. According to information received by Reporters Without Borders, since June 2009 at least 57 have been arrested and sentenced by revolutionary courts to prison terms of between six months seven years.

In recent days, three women journalists, Jila Bani Yaghoob, Shiva Nazar Ahari and Rihaneh Tabatabai, have been summoned by the judicial authorities to serve sentences of, respectively, one year’s imprisonment and a 30-year ban on working as a journalist, a four-year prison sentence and 74 lashes, and six months’ imprisonment.

The netizens Ladan Mostoufi Ma’ab, Hanieh Sate Farshi, sentenced to five and seven years respectively, and the journalist Mahssa Amrabadi, who received a two-year prison term, are serving their sentences in Evin prison. Amrabadi is married to the journalist Masoud Bastani, who has been held in Rajaishahr prison since July 2009.

The netizen Mansoureh Behkish received a six-month sentence last month for “propaganda against the system” and a three-and-a-half-year suspended sentence for “assembly and conspiring with the intent to harm national security”. Behkish, who has been imprisoned several times, will be taken into custody shortly.

2) The arbitrary arrest and incommunicado detention of journalists and netizens carried out systematically by the authorities.

On 22 August, 72-year-old Mir Hossein Mousavi, a former prime minister and owner of the suspended newspaper Kalameh Sabaz, was admitted to hospital in Tehran after suffering a heart problem. The next day, he was moved to an unknown location where he remains under house arrest.

Mousavi and his wife Zahra Rahnavard, a popular writer, have been under house arrest for more than 18 months, together with Mehdi Karoubi, a former speaker of Parliament and the owner of another suspended newspaper, Etemad Melli. They have been deprived of all rights since then. Karoubi also suffers from health problems. His wife, Fatemeh Karoubi, editor of the magazine Iran dokhte, was also arrested but was released in September last year.

Contrary to national and international laws, no independent national or foreign observers have been allowed to visit Iran’s prisons to record and publicize any violations of the basic rights of those held there. On behalf of the international community, we urge you to compel the Iranian authorities to cooperate fully with the United Nations and to comply with their international undertakings, in particular the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Iran is party. On behalf of the international community, it is incumbent on you to request the unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience in Iran.

We thank you for your consideration of our comments and observations in the interests of making freedom of news and information a reality in Iran.

Yours sincerely.

Christophe Deloire

Director General, Reporters Without Borders