There has been no let-up in the persecution of independent journalists, citizen journalists and media outlets in Iran, where the media are mostly under the Islamic regime’s close control. Media personnel are still constantly exposed to intimidation, arbitrary arrests and long jail sentences imposed by revolutionary courts at the end of unfair trials.
Since 29 July 2015, the date of an historic visit to Iran by Ayrault’s predecessor as foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, RSF has tallied more than 100 cases of journalists being summoned by the Iranian authorities, threatened and often imprisoned.
In the 37 arrests of journalists tallied by RSF since that date, 17 of the journalists were freed pending trial after paying exorbitant bail sums, six were released after serving a one-year jail sentence, 12 are still in prison after receiving sentences ranging from three to ten years in prison and two (both women) were held for a month in unknown locations without being charged.
Not content with jailing, the Iranian judicial authorities often sentence journalists to inhuman and medieval punishments. In the space of a year, at least four were sentenced to flogging. They include filmmaker and journalist Kaivan Karimi (sentenced to 223 lashes), journalist Mohammad Reza Fathi (459 lashes) and Shahrood News website editor Mostafa Sharif (40 lashes).
The sentences have not yet been administered to these three, butHossein Movahedi, a Najafabad News website journalist convicted of publishing “false information,” was administered his sentence of 40 lashes on 4 January.
To contest the legality of their detention and to protest against prison conditions, detained journalists are often driven to extremes. At least ten who were ill and were not getting medical care went on hunger strike in 2016 to demand appropriate treatment.
Three were freed but the others are still held. They include Mohammad Sedegh Kabodvand, the onetime editor of the now closed newspaper Payam-e mardom-e Kurdestan; Narges Mohammadi, a woman journalist and spokesperson of the Centre for Human Right Defenders in Iran; Roya Saberi Negad Nobakht, a citizen journalist with British and Iranian dual citizenship; Afarin Chitsaz, a journalist with the daily newspaper Iran; and Ehssan Mazndarani, the editor of the daily Farhikhteghan.
They could resume their hunger strikes at any time, as Issa Saharkhiz, a well-known freelance journalist and former editor of several, now-closed reformist newspapers, already did on 14 January, when he began his third hunger strike in a year in protest against the conditions of his detention. He is currently hospitalized after suffering a heart attack.
Prisoners of conscience risk death in Iran. They have no choice but to put their lives in danger in order to contest the legality of their detention, says Asma Jahangir, a Pakistani human rights lawyer who recently took over as the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran.
The Islamic Republic’s government has not allowed the UN special rapporteur to visit Iran since May 2011. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein recently condemned this refusal to cooperate with the UN Human Rights Council.
RSF asks Ayrault to use his meetings with Iranian officials to personally raise the issue of media freedom and the fate of all the journalists and citizen journalists held in appalling conditions. RSF is very concerned about the survival of several imprisoned journalists who are in very poor physical and psychological health.
RSF thinks the French foreign minister should also use this visit to remind the Iranian authorities of their duty to respect the laws and regulations that they themselves issued*, as well as the international standards** established in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Iran signed.
RSF also points out to the French government that a rapprochement with Tehran that does not stress the need to respect freedom of information and other fundamental rights will just reinforce the use of disproportionate repressive methods against a civil society seeking freedom.
Ranked 169th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index, Iran is one of the world’s five biggest prisons for the media, with a total of 27 journalists and citizen journalists currently detained.
*According to Iran’s prison regulations, adopted by the judicial body that oversees the prison system, prison officials are supposed to provide detainees with any medical care they need. Articles 102 and 103 of the regulations say that “monthly medical checks are obligatory in the prison clinic” and that “if necessary, the detainee must be transferred urgently from the prison to the hospital.” These regulations also say that the judge in charge of the case is responsible for the health and safety of any prisoner with a serious and incurable illness.
**According to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is party, depriving detainees of medical care constitutes a violation of the ban on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.