Iranian authorities crack down on media

New York, June 15, 2009–The Committee to Protect Journalists called today for an end to the Iranian authorities’ ongoing crackdown on media following the disputed re-election of incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. 

Since Friday, authorities have muzzled media outlets and beaten and harassed journalists in an attempt to control the flow of news, according to international news reports. The official announcement of the election results on Saturday morning sparked violence across the country as supporters of Ahmedinejad’s main challenger, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, denounced the outcome.

“We are outraged by the government militia attacks against journalists and media organizations,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ program coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa. “The Iranian authorities must immediately cease threats and attacks against the press and guarantee that journalists are able to report freely.”

The BBC reported on Sunday that its Persian television and radio signals were experiencing disruption in Iran and the Middle East and Europe “because there is heavy electronic jamming of one of the satellites the BBC uses in the Middle East to broadcast the BBC Persian TV signal to Iran.” Technicians determined that the disruption was coming from Iran, the BBC reported.

The Dubai-based pan-Arab Al-Arabiya news channel reported on Sunday that Iranian authorities had shut down its Tehran bureau for a week without explanation. Al-Arabiya’s correspondent in Tehran “was asked by the Ministry of Information to change a report and then notified that the offices would be closed for a week,” the channel reported.

On Friday, the U.S.-backed Farsi-language Radio Farda reported that several reformist Web sites have been censored inside Iran, including Jomhoriyat, Khordade No, Aynda, Mowj Sehum, and Nawruz., an online image database, was blocked inside Iran today, the London-based Daily Telegraph reported. On Sunday, authorities suspended Kalameh Sabz, the reformist newspaper affiliated with the Mousavi, the Iran-based Kalameh news Web site reported.

Since Friday, foreign journalists have reported increased harassment. “We were arrested and had our tapes confiscated,” the BBC’s John Simpson reported from Tehran on Sunday. “After that we had to film more discreetly.” Correspondent Jan Eikelboom and cameraman Dennis Hilgers of the Dutch public broadcaster Nederland 2 said they were briefly arrested by police when they were filming in front of Mousavi’s head office. Their tapes and permits were confiscated and they were ordered to leave the country immediately, AFP reported. Belgian radio stations RTBF and VRT also told the AFP that their correspondents in Iran have been briefly arrested and instructed not to take pictures.

James Longley, an American documentary filmmaker, and his translator were briefly detained by police on Sunday in Tehran while interviewing people near the Ministry of Interior. “They dragged me and my translator off to the Ministry of Interior building,” Longley wrote in an e-mail. “They punched and kicked [the translator] in the groin. They ripped off his ID and snatched away both our cameras. A passing police officer sprayed my translator in the face with pepper spray.”

Iranian authorities ordered the crew of the Spanish RTVE broadcasting network to leave the country today, Al-Jazeera reported. German public television channels ARD and ZDF told Agence France-Presse on Sunday that their correspondents in Iran were not allowed to broadcast their reports.

The entirety of Iran’s Internet crashed on Saturday and only came back online in patches, according to international news reports. There were also news accounts that said Iranian authorities had intentionally disabled access to the Internet and mobile phone text messaging in an effort to stifle protestors’ effort to organize. It is possible, however, that these crashes are the result of exceptionally high demand by users who have inundated the system, report technical experts.