Journalists are continuing to be arrested five months after the start of the demonstrations against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed reelection. Three more have been arrested in the past couple of weeks while those who defend the 34 detained journalists and bloggers are being subjected to increased intimidation.
“We fear that that, by dint of brutality, intimidation and censorship, the authorities will end up ridding Iran of all of its independent journalists and bloggers, who have to choose between saying nothing, speaking out (and being jailed), or fleeing the country,” Reporters Without Borders said.
The latest to be arrested is Ako Kurdnasab of Karfto (a weekly closed by the authorities last year), who was detained on 12 November after taking part in a demonstration against a young political prisoner’s execution in Sanandaj, the capital of the Iranian province of Kurdistan. It is not known where he is being held and his family has received no word of him since his arrest.
Kurdnasab was sentenced to six months in prison in 2007 on a charge of “trying to overthrow the government by means of journalistic activities.” See the press releases we issued about him on 14 November 2007 and 4 January 2008.
Mazadk Ali Nazari, the editor of the “Journalism for Peace” website, managed to telephone his family from a place of detention on 14 November to tell them he had been arrested. However, he was not able to give the date of his arrest or say where he was being held. Nazari, who lives on his own in Tehran, had been missing for several days when he phoned.
Nazari’s case is not isolated. Around 10 people who took part in the 4 November demonstrations have still not returned home despite the Tehran prosecutor general’s insistence that the authorities have freed all those who had been detained. Arbitrary arrest in Iran nowadays resembles forced disappearance more and more.
Reporters Without Borders has meanwhile learned that Rahim Gholami, a journalist who writes for several local newspapers in the northwestern city of Ardabil, was arrested on 29 October. In March 2006, a revolutionary court in Ardabil sentenced him to a year in prison on a charge of “anti-government publicity.”
Lawyers who defend detained journalists are being constantly harassed by the intelligence services. This has been the case with Nasrin Soutodeh, a member of Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi’s Tehran-based Human Rights Defenders Centre.
Soutodeh, who is representing several imprisoned journalists and has criticised many procedural irregularities, was recently questioned by intelligence ministry officials. Ebadi herself is currently out of the country for a series of meeting with international organisations, but her family in Iran is being harassed.
Soutodeh told Reporters Without Borders: “I was summoned by a court, but when I got there, the judge told me that I was to be interrogated by intelligence ministry officials, which is illegal. We are being subjected to an unprecedented degree of harassment. All of the human rights lawyers have at the very least been summoned and interrogated.”
The Iranian police have meanwhile just announced that they are stepping up Internet control by creating a special 12-member unit under the prosecutor-general’s supervision to “act against fraud attempts, commercial advertising and false information” and to hunt down “insults and lies.”
In practice, the unit will be given the task of checking the content of opposition websites. Reporters Without Borders fears the consequences that this special unit could have for online free expression.
A cyber-crime law that was adopted in August gives the police a free hand to crack down on the Internet, which has continued to be a major information and communication tool for government opponents since the disputed 12 June election, despite draconian controls, the blocking of thousands of news websites and many arrests.
But the Revolutionary Guards, a militia that gets its orders directly from the Supreme Leader, is now directly involved in online censorship. On 17 June, it ordered all website editors to remove “any content which encourages the population to riot or which spreads threats or rumours.”
Iran was ranked 172nd out of 175 countries in the 2009 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.