Reporters Without Borders once again expresses its grave concern at the arbitrary arrests of journalists and netizens and the threats made against the families of foreigners and Iranians working for media organizations in Iran.
In the past three years, the press freedom organization has recorded a dozen arrests and instances of threats against the families of journalists working for foreign-based organizations and international news agencies.
In the past two months, several journalists and netizens have been summoned for questioning in cities such as Tehran, Bushehr, Karaj and Qazvin, two of them aged just 14 and 15.
On 25 December, agents from the intelligence ministry raided the head office of the weekly Hadith e-Qazvin in the northern city of Qazvin. They seized its computers and took the staff away for questioning. The journalists were released after three hours.
However, the weekly’s editor Rahim Sarkar is still held in intelligence ministry cells in Qazvin. He was previously arrested on 8 March last year and released four days later on bail of 50 million tomans (45,000 euros). Publication was halted for the second time in a year.
On 1 January, Mohammad Kimyai, a writer and contributor to Hadith-e Qazvin, was also arrested at his home by intelligence ministry agents. His family has been given no reason for his arrest. The journalist is held in solitary confinement in the intelligence ministry prison in Qazvin.
On the same day, a 14-year-old blogger was arrested by the Iranian cyber police in the northern city of Karaj. According to the cyber police website, the teenager had published “offensive content” on his blog and he had “confessed to his crimes after his arrest”.
Two weeks earlier, several netizens using social networks were summoned for questioning by the cyber police in the city of Bushehr. They included Sorosh Ghazizadeh, a 15-year-old blogger who was questioned for five hours. His father, Younes Ghazizadeh, is a well-known and outspoken journalist in the region. The arrest and interrogation of the young blogger could be a way of putting pressure on his father.
The government continues to threaten the families of journalists working for foreign-based organizations and international news outlets. The threats intensified after coverage in the international media of the protests that followed the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad in June 2009.
For the past year, the government has been taking reprisals against foreign news organizations in response to the strengthening of international sanctions in the field of telecommunications which restrict the Islamic Republic’s ability to spread its propaganda. The reprisals include:
- The accreditation of journalists working for the Reuters news agency has been withdrawn after a court case trumped up by agents of the ministry of culture and Islamic guidance.
- “Journalists” close to the intelligence service have been imposed on some news organizations to intimidate them and exert greater control over their activities.
- Pressure and harassment has been stepped up against a number of Iranian and foreign journalists and correspondents working for international media organizations to force them to give up their work.
- Several journalists have been entrapped by government agents and accused of having “immoral relations banned under Islamic law”. Some have been threatened with stoning.
This was the fate of the young female journalist H.KA, who befriended a colleague from a prestigious European newspaper at a government-organized conference in Tehran in February 2010. She was summoned to the intelligence ministry a few days later and questioned about her relationship with a “foreign agent”. She was accused of spying and of having sexual relations with a “miscreant”, and was threatened with stoning or the death penalty unless she co-operated.
She was forced to sign a statement that she had been raped by her foreign colleague and subsequently to entice him to go to an area close to nuclear installations. H.KA, now in exile, is still subjected to pressure through her family.
Her case is far from isolated and illustrates the methods used regularly by the ruling theocracy, which is in the grip of corruption and tyranny. Such outrageous accusations are used as a weapon against the sanctions imposed by Western governments and amount to hostage-taking.
Reporters Without Borders has received several first-hand accounts from victims of the shabby and insidious methods used by the Tehran government, which it has passed on to U.N. human rights bodies.