Around 250 journalists have been arrested and given long jail terms during the past two years in Iran. Journalists and newspapers that fail to toe the regime’s line are exposed to the possibility of being prosecuted or suspended over a report or editorial. Many journalists are no longer able to work openly. Persecution of journalists has become part of the Iranian state’s political culture.
Reporters Without Borders is supporting Khabarnegaran Iran (The Iranian Journalist), an Iranian news website aimed at journalists. Launched in July 2009, it has become part of the resistance to the government’s repression and propaganda.
What are the differences between working as a journalist in Tehran and working as a journalist in the rest of the country? How can you inform the public when all dissident voices are being censored? What role do women journalists play in Iran? Who are the journalists that are in jail and why are they there? How do the families of detained journalists live? These are the kind of stories the website covers.
The articles are written in Farsi but about a quarter of them are translated into English in order to reach a wider audience. The team of translators also translate some international articles into Farsi.
Using a network of contributors in Iran, the website offers a unique insight into what life is like for Iranian journalists and provides an alternative outlet to those who have been forced to stop working as journalists for political reasons.
Khabarnegaran Iran’s articles hit home and anger the Iranian authorities. The site was the target a cyber-attack of unknown origin on 2 November. The reformist news websites Jaras News and Kalameh were also rendered inaccessible for more than 10 hours the same day.
The site had to suspend operations at the end of 2009 because of the crackdown on protests and massive exodus of journalists that followed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed reelection in June of that year. It reopened a few months ago.
Iran is ranked 175th out of 179 countries in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index released this month. Around 50 independent newspapers have been suspended since June 2009 by the courts and by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance’s censorship arm. Those that continue to publish are subject to constant harassment, including warnings and interrogations, and self-censorship is the rule in newsrooms.
The Iranian authorities demonize the Internet, social networks and new media, accusing them of serving foreign interests. The regime is constantly tightening its control of the Internet and in January 2011 created the first “cyber-police” to track down online dissidents. The authorities boast of their success in the field of Internet censorship, claiming that they have blocked millions of websites.
Online filtering software developed in Iran is being used to reinforce content blocking and several western companies have been accused of cooperating with the Iranian government in this area. Iran now wants to go further and develop its own national Internet.