Iran unleashes another wave of arrests and repression

Ali Akbar Javanfekr, far left, director of the official Iranian News Agency, is among those recently charged. In this file photo, he attends a June presidential press conference. (Reuters/Caren Firouz)

New York, November 22, 2011--Iranian authorities have engaged in a series of attacks against the press in the past two weeks, including raiding a news office, banning an independent newspaper, and arresting at least five journalists.

"The Iranian regime has maintained a policy of silencing any type of dissenting opinions by arresting critical journalists, banning reformist newspapers, and politicizing the convictions of journalists," said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ's Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. "With each passing day, the regime continues to add to its growing list of press violations, placing it among the world's leading violators of media freedoms."

On Sunday, a Tehran court sentenced Ali Akbar Javanfekr, director of the official Iranian News Agency and its print affiliate Iran, to one year in prison and a three-year ban on practicing journalism on charges of publishing material contrary to Islamic law, according to news reports. The next day, judiciary officials aligned with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stormed the offices of Iran and arrested Javanfekr, news outlets reported. Javanfekr, who is also President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's media adviser, was handcuffed and detained, but freed an hour later when the president threatened to personally come and release him from the prosecutor's office, news reports said.

Javanfekr had given an interview to the reformist daily Etemad, published on Saturday, in which he harshly criticized the Iranian prosecutor general and other conservatives, news reports said. Etemad was banned on Sunday for two months for "disseminating lies and insults to officials in the establishment," news reports said. The newspaper was informed of the ban by a phone call from the Tehran prosecutor's office, according to the opposition website Iran Green Voice.

Javanfekr was holding a press conference about his sentence when officials tried to detain him, news reports said. After staff members gathered in the journalist's office and tried to prevent officials from arresting him, security forces broke down the door, sprayed the staff with pepper spray, threw tear gas, and started a fire. News outlets reported that security forces also arrested the newspaper's chief editor, Mossayeb Naeimi, and at least 30 reporters and staff from IRNA, Iran newspaper, and other press offices in the building. CPJ could not immediately corroborate those reports.

In an unrelated episode, security forces arrested Hassan Fathi, editor of the Iranian daily Ettelaat, at his home in Tehran on November 13, the BBC Persian service reported. His wife told the BBC that she was initially unaware of her husband's arrest and heard about it first on the Internet. She said security forces confiscated his laptop and their satellite receiver. 

News reports said that Fathi was arrested after granting an interview to the BBC Persian service on an explosion at an ammunition depot that killed 17 soldiers from the Revolutionary Guards. The semi-official news agency Fars claimed he was a reporter for the banned BBC Persian service and accused him of "spreading lies and disrupting public minds." Iran bans any cooperation with foreign news agencies. In a statement, the BBC Persian service denied that Fathi was working for them and said they were interviewing him as an independent analyst. The BBC said they have no office or journalists working for them in Iran.

Security forces also arrested Davood Khodakarami, a journalist with the Azari-language Bayram Monthly, in the northwestern province of Zanjan, on Friday, according to news reports. The journalist had gone to the Zanjan bus terminal to ship copies of the just-published edition of Bayram Monthly to the city of Tabriz. His family initially reported him missing, but then received a phone call from Khodakarami at 10 p.m. on Saturday confirming his arrest. Bayram Monthly is the only publication in the city of Zanjan that covers cultural and social issues. According to opposition website Iran Global, security forces had gone to Khodakarami's home several times since August, threatening his family and searching the premises and confiscating his computer and personal items.

Two Kuwaiti journalists, reporter Adel al-Yahya and cameraman Raed al-Majed, were arrested on November 11 in the southern city of Abadan on charges of espionage and entering the country illegally, news reports said. Several Kuwaiti newspapers said the journalists, who work for the private Kuwaiti television station Al-Adalah, intended to produce a program titled "Kuwaiti Citizens Abroad" about children of Kuwaiti nationals who have married Iranian citizens. 

Another detention, which occurred in March, was disclosed this month for the first time. Fereydoun Seydi Rad, an online journalist, was arrested on March 2 and spent 43 days in solitary confinement, according to news reports. His sister, Faranak Seydi Rad, said their family had maintained silence for eight months because they had been threatened and did not want to worsen the journalist's situation. In August, a Tehran Revolutionary Court sentenced Seydi Rad to one year in prison for "propagating against the regime" in writings on his blog, Arak Green Revolution, and two years for "participating in Ayatollah Montazeri's funeral" and "participating in an Ashura Day protest," in December 2010, which Seydi Rad denied. 

November 22, 2011 3:21 PM ET |

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