Authorities launch media crackdown and detain at least six journalists

New York, July 17, 2003—A top Iranian official said yesterday that the death of Canadian-Iranian free-lance photojournalist Zahra Kazemi might have be en caused by a fall or another accident, contradicting an announcement the same day by Iranian vice president Mohammad Ali Abtahi that Kazemi died from a “brain hemorrhage resulting from beatings”

Iranian foreign minister Kamel Kharazzi told Canada’s Foreign Minister Bill Graham yesterday that Kazemi’s death might have been an accident.

Kazemi, 54, died on Friday, July 11, at Baghiatollah Hospital in Iran’s capital, Tehran, where she had been transferred after being held in government custody.

There have been reports that an autopsy has been performed on Kazemi, but CPJ has not been able to confirm them. Other reports suggest that her body has been buried, which will hinder any possible investigation.

“These conflicting statements only reinforce the need for an immediate, independent autopsy and investigation into Kazemi’s death,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “We again urge Iranian authorities to begin such inquiries at once.”

In the wake of the journalist’s death, Iranian authorities launched a crackdown on the media, arresting several journalists.

According to Iran’s official news agency, IRNA, Mohammad Hoseyn Khoshvaqt, director-general of the Foreign Press and Media Department at the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, said over the weekend that Iranian authorities detained Kazemi, a contributor to Montreal-based magazine Recto Verso and London-based photo agency Camera Press, in late June outside Tehran’s Evin Prison while she was taking photos at the facility. At the time, Khoshvaqt said that Kazemi had died of a “brain stroke,” and that she had complained of poor health while she was detained and was taken to the hospital.

At least six journalists detained in crackdown
According to various press reports, Iranian authorities have detained at least six journalists during the last few days. The crackdown is so severe that President Mohammed Khatami yesterday ordered the Information Ministry and the Justice Ministry to review the “ways by which they carry out their judicial and security powers over journalists,” IRNA reported.

The journalists were detained after being called in for questioning by Said Mortazavi, Tehran’s prosecutor general and former head of Tehran’s Press Court, which has suspended dozens of publications and imprisoned several journalists in the past. The journalists currently in detention include:

  • Issa Saharkhiz, editor of the reformist monthly magazine Aftab, was detained on July 15 in connection with an article that had appeared in the magazine more than a year ago. The piece, which was a translation into Farsi of an article by an American writer, discussed recent changes in Iranian society. Saharkhiz has been accused of “insulting the regime.” He remains imprisoned because he cannot afford bail.
  • Iraj Rasteghar, editor of the suspended reformist weekly Tavana, was detained for questioning by the general prosecutor on July 15 and remains in government custody. The publication has been closed for two years, and it is not clear what prompted Rasteghar’s detention.
  • Hussein Bastani and Wahid Ostad-Pour, editors of the reformist daily Yas-e-Nou, were detained on July 12 after being called in for questioning by a state prosecutor regarding recent articles in the paper. They remain in custody.
  • Shahram Mohamedi-Neid, editor of the weekly Vaqt, was detained on July 12 in connection with recent articles published in his weekly. He remains in government custody.
  • Iraj Jamshidi, editor of the daily economic newspaper Asia, was detained on July 6 after the July 5 edition of the paper published a photo of Paris-based Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi smiling following her release from a Paris prison on terrorism charges. Rajavi is the wife of Massoud Rajavi, leader of Mujahedeen Khalq, a group that the United States considers a terrorist organization. Although sources and news reports say that he paid a 3 billion riyals (US$250,000) bail, he remains imprisoned. He is accused of “insulting the regime.”

In addition to these six journalists, CPJ is investigating reports of other journalists possibly detained for their work.