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Iranian journalists arrested in raids

Experts and journalists have suggested the crackdown is an indication of political infighting and fear of foreign influence and infiltration

By Peter Townson  Tue, 29/01/2013

Intelligence and security officials in Iran have recently raided six different news outlets in Iran, detaining 14 journalists amid accusations of working with foreign-based Persian-language media organisations, according to reports.

Fourteen journalists from four daily newspapers, a weekly, a website and the ILNA news agency, were identified by their editors as having been detained in recent days, according to reports.

The detainees work for various reformist outlets including the Shargh, Arman, Bahar and Etemad newspapers, as well as the Aseman weekly, the Baztab website and ILNA news agency.

Some of the journalists have already spent time behind bars in the past for critical writings, and one of those detained has already been temporarily released.

According to the news agencies, “the journalists close to anti-revolutionary movements” were arrested for “cooperation with Persian-language anti-revolutionary media."

Iran has denounced foreign outlets such as Voice of America and the BBC’s Persian service as arms of US and British intelligence services and has warned Iranian journalists against working with these organisations.

State prosecutor, Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehei told local journalists last week that members of the media who spoke to “hostile foreign media” would be punished for “serving the enemy’s purpose.”

An indication of political infighting

The recent crackdown on journalists in Iran is an indication of the climate of fear and oppression facing members of the media in the country at the current time.  

Doha Centre for Media Freedom spoke to a British journalist who worked with PressTV in Iran a number of years ago.  He suggested that the raids are a result of political infighting between different factions in the Iranian government, adding that suspicions over the media continue to abound in Tehran.

“As a journalist in Iran you will always be looked at as some sort of an agitator,” he said, adding that the authorities keep a keen eye on the foreign media’s portrayal of the country abroad.

The journalist, who spoke to DCMF on condition of anonymity, was himself detained three times by the authorities in Iran before his visa was eventually cancelled and he was forced to leave the country.

“There is quite a high fear of foreign influence, and they want good headlines – behind the scenes they are very aware of PR and they are watching and learning all the time.”

He added that CIA infiltrations into the country through Iranian journalists in the past has led to a sense of mistrust and fear of foreign influence in Iran.

DCMF also spoke to Shahab Mossavat, a journalist who worked for Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) between 2006 and 2009 before leaving the country after a brief incarceration.

“The press situation in Iran is hugely compromised by the factionalism which permeates it.  The IRNA (Islamic Republic News Agency) has been infiltrated and almost entirely subverted to the Ahmadinejad cause; whilst others such as ILNA and Fars have suffered from the same fate, albeit by supporters of others,” he said.

“My correspondents in Iran tell me that the greatest political crisis today is the factionalism and jockeying for position and favour,” he noted, adding “the big struggle is between the ageing clergy and their wealth, and the ultra-religious laity in the Basij/Sepah and their grassroots power.  Therefore these same axes of tension and conflict replicate themselves in what remains of the press.”

He argued that the restrictive orthodoxies of the regime continues to filter down to outlets which toe the line, and noted that the decreasing number of press closures since 2009 is a result of the narrower base of newspapers as opposed to any improvement in the media freedom situation.

“The previous practice of a newspaper being closed down, merely for it and its staff to open up a few weeks later under a new banner, has almost entirely ceased; as a consequence of the repressions and mass incarcerations of dissident, less orthodox journalists.”

“The crackdown which is taking place now is merely an extension of the many repressions that have divested the Islamic Republic of any democratic respectability or compliance,” he added.

Intimidating news sources

DCMF spoke to the executive director of the US-based Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, Gissou Nia, who expressed concern at the recent raids, describing the authorities actions as intimidatory.

“This suggests that Iranian authorities are taking steps well in advance of this summer's presidential elections to intimidate independent journalists and strongly discourage any communications with popular Farsi-language news networks, like BBC Persian, which has widespread viewership in the country and is beamed into people's homes via satellite.”

Nia said that foreign-based media outlets provide the most reliable source of information for Iranians seeking objective coverage of news and events such as the upcoming election.  She suggested that while decent media coverage of the elections is unexpected, should a reformist candidate be able to run, then the role of the media in attempting to ensure transparency and accountability during the elections will become much more significant.

“Unencumbered by the risk of shut-down and closure by Iranian authorities, Farsi-language media outlets that operate outside the country have a free hand to give objective reporting about developments inside Iran and provide an alternative to the official narrative of state-affiliated media."

“The international community should push for independent election monitors to be permitted inside the country for this year's presidential election and there should be a push to allow foreign journalists as well.  However I think the Farsi-language media that is beamed in from abroad is more important than anything for informing the views of the Iranian people because those are the programmes they watch as a means to keep informed from a source other than those that are government-affiliated,” she added.

Press freedom battle continues

Other rights groups have expressed their concerns about the ongoing fight for media freedom in Iran.  Reporters Without Borders (RSF) secretary general, Christophe Deloire said: “The constant persecution of journalists keeps on intensifying by the day.  Iran has not yet emerged from the era of terror launched after the disputed June 2009 presidential election and now, five months before the next election in June 2013, a clear warning is being given – journalists and news media will be gagged.”

Deputy director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme, Ann Harrison said: "This latest example of locking-up Iran's journalists is a result of draconian restrictions on reporting which violate the right to freedom of expression and must be relaxed."

“All journalists who are imprisoned in Iran merely for peacefully doing their job should be released immediately and unconditionally,” she added.

There is a need for quality journalism in Iran and a desperate desire among the people there to read, see and hear the truth about the situation in their country.  Whether the government is attempting to reaffirm their control over the media and intimidate sources from contacting foreign outlets, or whether these actions bear the mark of a powerplay from a particular faction of the Iranian government, power over the media is becoming more difficult to maintain. 

The younger generation of Iranians refuses to be misinformed and continues to look abroad for news unfiltered by government officials, and as long as courageous journalists continue to provide this news, the battle for media freedom in Iran will continue to gain.


Sources: DCMF, AFP, IJA


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