Relatives of Iranian journalists taken hostage in Iran
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns Iran’s arrests of relatives of the US-based Iranian journalist and human rights defender Masih Alinejad and the continuing judicial harassment of the families of independent journalists and those working for foreign media outlets.
Alinejad’s brother, Alireza Alinejad, and her ex-husband’s sister, Leila Lotfi, were arrested by plainclothes Revolutionary Guard intelligence agents on 26 September in the northern city of Babol and in Tehran.
“They have taken them hostage in order to silence me,” said Alinejad, who has posted a video that her brother made just before his arrest in which he reports that pressure was being put on him and his parents to public condemn Alinejad’s activities.
The families of several prisoners of conscience, including journalists, are currently being persecuted by the Iranian authorities. Farangis Mazloom, the mother of Soheil Arabi, the winner of the 2017 RSF Press Freedom Prize in the citizen-journalist category, was arrested on 22 July after drawing attention to the conditions in which he is being held.
Sharzad Jafari, the sister of detained photojournalist Noushin Jafari, was arrested for similar reasons two weeks after her sister’s arrest on 3 August. She was released after being detained for three days. There has been no news of either of them since then.
Iran’s attempts to restrict media freedom extend beyond the country’s borders. International media outlets are also subjected to harassment, even if the regime tries to maintain appearances. In the past year, RSF has registered at least 25 cases of pressure being put on Iranian journalists based abroad and their families in Iran.
Alinejad, who has lived in self-imposed exile in the United States since 2009 and works for Voice of America, had herself been threatened recently. Musa Gazanfarabad, the president of Tehran’s revolutionary courts, announced on 29 July that she was suspected of “collaborating with hostile governments, an offence punishable by one to ten years in prison under article 508 of the Islamic criminal code.”
Alinejad has waged several campaigns against laws requiring women to wear the hijab, including “My Stealthy Freedom” and “White wednesdays.” Her latest campaign, “Our weapon is our camera,” urges women to use their smartphones to record the verbal and physical violence to which they are subjected on the streets. The resulting videos, which are circulating widely social networks, have angered the regime and have elicited hostile reactions from pro-regime militiamen.
Article 508, which penalizes “collaborating with a state at war with the Islamic Republic of Iran,” has been used several times against journalists based in Iran and journalists working for foreign media, especially in the United States, although Iran’s foreign ministry and its high court of justice have stated several times that Iran is not at war with the countries cited.
Iran is ranked 170th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index