Iranian authorities arrest four more journalists

New York, October 18, 2011–Iranian authorities arrested four journalists who work for reformist newspapers and are expected to charge them with antistate crimes, according to news reports. 

Mehdi Afsharnik, Ali Akrami, Mohamed Heydari, and Mohsen Hakim were arrested and taken from their homes on October 5, news reports said. An Iranian journalist told CPJ that the four arrested men were rumored to be in Evin Prison, but CPJ was unable to confirm the report. None of the journalists have had access to lawyers or been officially charged, though their families were told that they were being charged with antistate crimes, news reports said.  

“Tehran routinely detains any journalists who dare to contradict the government line in their reporting,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “What these journalists have done is not a crime. We call for their immediate release along with that of the dozens of other journalists languishing in Iranian jails.”

Afsharnik is a veteran business journalist who writes about the oil and energy sectors for the reformist daily Etemad. In an interview with Rooz Online, Afsharnik’s wife said that at the time of his arrest, authorities searched their home and took several of his personal belongings, including cell phones, computer hard drives, and CDs. She said authorities told her he will be charged with “acting against national security” and “propagating against the regime.”

Akrami is a freelance journalist for reformist publications and websites and is also the editor of the sociocultural blog Sheydagooyi. In an interview with the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, Akrami’s wife said that he has made only one phone call to her since he was arrested and that he did not say where he was being held. She also said that five officers arrested him from their home, taking with them a laptop, a computer hard drive, a satellite receiver, several CDs, and other personal items.

Heydari is a political journalist who has written for now-banned reformist newspapers. Heydari’s wife told Rooz Online that her husband will be charged with “acting against national security” and “propagating against the regime.” Authorities also searched and confiscated personal belongings from his home, according to an Iranian journalist.

Hakimi wrote for a number of reformist newspapers including the now-banned reformist daily Sharq. While he was being arrested at his home, authorities also took some of his personal belongings, according to reformist news websites. Hakimi had previously been arrested in 2009 in the post-election wave of arrests that stemmed from protests that erupted after the declaration of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidential victory, the same sources reported.

In recent months, Tehran has maintained a steady stream of arrests, imprisonments, politicized convictions of journalists, and bans on reformist publications in a concerted effort to stifle critical journalism. Most recently, authorities arrested six independent filmmakers on vague accusations that they had engaged in a foreign conspiracy related to a critical documentary about Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that aired on the BBC’s Persian Service.

Since 2009, Iran’s regime has maintained a revolving-door policy for imprisoning journalists and have held anywhere between 30 and 50 journalists at any given time. The country is among the top jailors of journalists worldwide.