CPJ asks Iran to release imprisoned journalists

September 22, 2009 

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad 
President of the Islamic Republic of Iran 
C/o Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations 
622 Third Avenue
New York, NY 10017 
Via facsimile: 212-867-7086

Dear Mr. President,

While you are in New York this week to attend the United Nations General Assembly, your visit will be covered by the hundreds of journalists from around the world who are in the city for the annual gathering. But as many of these journalists report freely and openly on your speech and meetings they will no doubt be thinking of the dozens of journalists back in your country who are behind bars for trying to report on events in Iran.

We at the Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent, nonprofit organization that defends press freedom worldwide, are alarmed at the ongoing crackdown on independent news outlets and journalists since the presidential election on June 12. Scores of journalists have been detained, some for prolonged periods, opposition and critical Web sites have been blocked, and authorities have censored or banned the sale of newspapers on several occasions.

Since the elections, authorities have detained at least 70 journalists and media workers. No fewer than 28 remain behind bars, including six who were detained before the elections, according to CPJ research. There have been credible reports of mistreatment and abuse of journalists in custody.

For instance, on August 19, Mahdieh Mohammadi, wife of detained journalist Ahmad Zaid-Azadi, told the German radio broadcaster Deutsche Welle that she was allowed to see her husband after he had been in custody for 53 days. Zaid-Azadi, a columnist for the Rooz Online Web site was arrested in mid-June. Mohammadi said that her husband had been on a hunger strike for 17 days to protest the condition of his cell, which he had described as being “exactly like a tomb.” After breaking his hunger strike, he was returned to the same cell, she said. 

Journalists are among those on trial for charges that include “endangering national security” and “involvement with foreign powers in order to topple the regime.” Yet lawyers have frequently not been allowed to meet with their clients and have been prevented on more than one occasion from attending court proceedings. On August 11, four lawyers sent a protest letter to Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, head of the judiciary at the time, in which they said that they were not allowed to attend a mass hearing of dozens of defendants, among them journalists. They also said that one lawyer had been threatened with arrest after trying to enter the hall.

We are particularly concerned about the well-being of detained journalists, especially since some are suffering from medical complications resulting from their time in captivity. We are also concerned that detained Newsweek journalist Maziar Bahari’s wife is expecting a baby in the near future while he remains in prison. CPJ sent a private letter to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei last week seeking clemency for the detained journalists as Ramadan, a time for forgiveness and compassion, was drawing to a close. Unfortunately, no such releases took place.

CPJ has documented that issues of several newspapers such as Itmad Milli, Hayat e No, Hambastegy, and Aftab e Yazd were banned from being published following the June elections. On July 1, Hameed Qazwini, editor-in-chief of Hayat e No, told the Iranian Students News Agency, that a representative of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance had deleted a number of articles before the newspaper was sent to print and as a result the paper was not published. In a public letter published on June 22, around 200 Iranian journalists singed a petition saying that censorship has been unprecedented: “Even during wartime there was not this much pressure on publications.”

Mr. President, it is a bitter irony that the press will be able to cover you freely abroad but not at home.

We urge you to put and end to that situation immediately by prevailing upon the relevant authorities to release all detained journalists, lift the ban on blocked Web sites, put an end to censorship, and make sure that journalists in your country can report the news without fear of reprisal.

Thank you for your attention to these important matters. We look forward to your reply.