Journalists face trial in Iran as arrests continue

New York, July 30, 2009–After more than a month of detention, several journalists may face trial beginning on Saturday on charges of “sending pictures to enemy media.” Three documentary filmmakers were arrested today, bringing the total of journalists currently held in Iranian jails to 42, the highest count in the world.

The journalists are expected to be among 20 unnamed defendants tried on an array of charges, according to a government statement posted by the semi-official Fars News agency. All were arrested in the aftermath of the disputed June 12 presidential elections.

The official Iranian News Agency (IRNA) reported on Wednesday that photographers Majid Saeedi and Satyar Emami confessed to taking pictures and sending them to “enemy [news] agencies.” Few details are available about Emami, who was arrested on July 9. Security forces arrested Saeedi, a photographer for several local newspapers and the global photo agency Getty Images, on July 10. Getty has more than 300 photographers working around the world and has offices in Gaza, Islamabad, London, Tokyo, and Iraq, among other countries.

“Majid Saeedi is a well-regarded photojournalist who was simply recording the reality he observed and distributing his photos through a global news agency recognized for its nonpartisan coverage of world events,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We are gravely concerned that Saeedi, Satyar Emami, and the many other journalists in jail could be put on trial merely for doing their jobs.”

A slideshow of Saeedi’s images from Iran can be seen here.

On June 30, Fars News agency posted an 11-page “confession” from detained Newsweek reporter Maziar Bahari in which he allegedly said he participated in “promoting a color revolution.” Bahari was arrested on June 21 in Tehran. More than 100 journalists representing 47 countries have sent a petition to the Iranian authorities calling for Bahari’s release.

In another development, police arrested at least three documentary filmmakers today when thousands of people gathered at Behesht-e-Zahra cemetery to commemorate the killing of Neda Agha-Soltan, a protester shot in the aftermath of the disputed June 12 election, according to international news reports. Police detained filmmakers Jafar Panahi, Mahnaz Mohammadi, and Rookhsare Ghaem Ghami, according to multiple news reports. The BBC Persian service reported that police also arrested Panahi’s wife and child, whose age was not mentioned.

Earlier this week, Korosh Javan, a freelance photographer, was released, CPJ has learned today. Javan was arrested on July 9. On Tuesday, authorities released on bail Shadi Sadr, a journalist, lawyer, and activist, who was arrested on July 17. Sadr is an editor for the Women in Iran, the Web site for a local women’s rights group. 

Iran has confirmed that it is holding 150 people arrested after the election, according to the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper. Other sources cite higher numbers. At least 36 journalists arrested since the crackdown are currently in jail. An additional six journalists were already imprisoned prior to the elections.