Shamsolvaezin's mother faces confiscation of her home if he does not report to prison. (AP)
Shamsolvaezin (AP)

Top Iranian journalists jailed in wake of Ashura protests

New York, December 29, 2009—The Iranian government, struggling to silence the many critical voices in the country, has arrested at least 11 journalists since Sunday, including former International Press Freedom Award recipient Mashallah Shamsolvaezin and the prominent writer Emadeddin Baghi. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the arrests and called for the release of all detained journalists, who now number more than 30.

“The arrest of every journalist in Iran fills us with indignation, but the detention of Mashallah Shamsolvaezin hits especially close to home,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We have honored him and stood by him as he has defended press freedom against all odds. We are deeply concerned about his welfare and call for his immediate release.”

The new arrests come amid massive demonstrations in the streets of Tehran and other major Iranian cities, protests that sprang from commemoration of Ashura, a day of religious significance to Shiite Muslims, and the death of Ayatollah Hossein Montazeri. The influential cleric, who at one time was designated to become supreme leader, had recently criticized the conduct of the June presidential election and the government’s post-election crackdown.

Shamsolvaezin, journalist and spokesman for the Iranian Committee for the Defense of Freedom of the Press, was arrested at his Tehran home this morning, according to the BBC and local news reports. Six plainclothes agents entered Shamsolvaezin’s home with a blank, or nameless, warrant, according to the reformist news Web site Rahesabz. Shamsolvaezin demanded that police produce a warrant that included his name, but senior officers were summoned and took him away, Rahesabz reported.

Shamsolvaezin is former editor of the reformist dailies Jame’eh, Tous, Neshati, and Asr-e Azadegan, which were successively shut down by Tehran’s Press Court between 1998 and 2000. He was sentenced in April 2000 to 30 months in prison for insulting Islamic principles in an article that criticized capital punishment; he was released after spending 17 months at the notorious Evin Prison. He was the recipient of CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award in 2000 for courage and independence in reporting the news.

Shamsolvaezin has been highly critical of government policies for many years. In a World Press Freedom Day message sent to CPJ from Evin Prison in 2001, he said the day was one “of memories, risks, and hopes for journalists all over the world, especially the oppressed Iranian journalists.” He added: “World Press Freedom Day gives us the opportunity to remind those who covertly or overtly are involved in jailing journalists and breaking their pens that they can never kill the thought of freedom.” Most recently, Shamsolvaezin has been an outspoken advocate for a free press in Iran and has appeared frequently on television as a media analyst.

Baghi, a prominent Iranian author, journalist, and human rights activist, was arrested Monday after being summoned to the security division of the Revolutionary Court, according to the reformist Ayandeh News Web site. Baghi has been arrested numerous times in the past. In 2000, he was sentenced to five and a half years in prison on charges of “questioning Islamic law,” “threatening national security,” and “spreading unsubstantiated news” in articles detailing the roles of intelligence agents in a series of politically motivated murders. He served three years in prison before being released. He was arrested again in 2007 and served several months for “acting against national security,” according to local and international news reports.

“We condemn the continued harassment of journalists in Iran, particularly the most recent round of arrests,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “Despite all the excesses Tehran has carried out against journalists in the past six months, independent media continue to make themselves heard both inside and outside Iran.”

At least nine other journalists have been arrested since Sunday, CPJ research shows. Alireza Beheshti Shirazi, editor-in-chief of the now-defunct reformist daily Kalameh Sabz, was taken from his home to an unknown location on Monday, according to international news reports. Shirazi was previously arrested in June after he gave interviews to foreign-language news media about the post-election turmoil.

Kayvan Mehregan, editor of the political section of the reformist daily Etemad was arrested on Monday, according to local news reports. His wife, Badressadat Mofidi, secretary of the Iranian Journalists Association, was also arrested, according to the same sources. Modifi had discussed the government’s press policies in a December 22 interview with the Persian service of the German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle.

Nasrin Naziri, a reporter for the Iranian Labor News Agency and the news Web site Khabar Online, was arrested today, according to Jahan News, a news Web site close to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Both Naziri and Mofidi were arrested for “their role in recent riots” Jahan News said.

Author and journalist Mostafa Izadi was arrested at his home on Monday, according to the reformist news Web site Advar News. He worked for the recently banned daily Etemad-e-Melli. Between 1997 and 2000, he was chief editor of the reformist Ava Weekly, which the government shut for promoting antistate positions.

Reza Tajik and Sam Mahmoudi Sarabi, journalists for the reformist daily Etemad, were arrested on Monday according to local news reports and the BBC Persian service. Tajik was arrested as he arrived at the newspaper’s offices, the opposition Web site Jaras reported. Tajik had already been jailed for 46 days during the government’s post-election crackdown.

Mohammad Javad Saberi was arrested Sunday by plainclothes agents near Tehran University, the reformist Hammihan news Web site reported.

Local and international news reports said Reza al-Basha, a Syrian journalist working for state-owned Dubai TV, was detained by Iranian authorities on Sunday. Al-Basha was picked up during anti-government protests in Tehran.

The arrests continue the Iranian government’s months-long assault on the press. In December, CPJ documented several other attacks. Authorities shut down a reformist daily and dispatched representatives to several newspapers, forbidding them to publish on their front pages photographs of the recently deceased Ayatollah Montazeri.

In the six months since the disputed presidential elections, scores of journalists have been detained, opposition and critical Web sites have been blocked, and authorities have censored or shut down newspapers on several occasions.