Iran should allow journalists to cover opposition rallies

New York, June 17, 2009–The Committee to Protect Journalists urges the Iranian government to lift all restrictions on foreign journalists and allow them to cover Thursday’s planned rallies in support of defeated presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi.

“Iranian authorities must allow foreign journalist to cover these opposition rallies,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Mohamed Abdel Dayem. “To prevent journalists, whom the authorities invited to report on the elections, from reporting the news undermines government claims of respect for the democratic process.”

Mousavi has called on his supporters to stage a peaceful rally or gather in mosques on Thursday, according to news reports. Following the official announcement that President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad had won re-election in the Friday vote, demonstrations in support of Mousavi have been organized in several cities. Protesters have claimed fraud and have called on authorities to void the results.

Iranian authorities have attempted to suppress the flow of information by blocking social networking and reformist Web sites and banning foreign journalists from reporting from the streets, CPJ research shows. They have also imposed bandwidth restrictions, effectively making it difficult to upload materials such as pictures or videos of the protests, according to National Public Radio and The Wall Street Journal.

In a written communication on Tuesday, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance ordered foreign journalists not to leave their offices to cover any “news events that have not been announced” by the ministry. International news organizations reported that their employees were not permitted to leave their offices in Tehran to cover protests. The order prohibits journalists from reporting, filming, or taking photographs, “without coordination and permission of [the ministry],” Bloomberg news quoted the ministry’s statement as saying. The BBC reported that press cards, issued by the ministry, have been declared invalid.

The New York Times reported today that Iranian authorities rejected requests by foreign journalists to have their one-week visas extended. Visa expiration has already forced many reporters to leave the country, NPR reported.

Social and news Web sites such as YouTube, Twitter, DailyMotion, and Facebook as well as several Web sites affiliated with the three opposition candidates have been blocked in Iran in recent days, according to OpenNet Initiative, a research project on Internet censorship.

Mobile phone service was shut down for one day on Saturday, but SMS, or short message service, has been interrupted since early Friday, according to OpenNet Initiative.