Ahead of Iran elections, crackdown on press continues

New York, February 2, 2012–At least 10 Iranian journalists were jailed in the month of January as the government continued its crackdown on dissent ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled in March, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Recent news reports identified three previously undisclosed arrests.

“The government’s intolerance of dissent is rising as parliamentary elections approach,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “Tehran is using the mass arrests of journalists as an intimidation tactic to silence those who dare criticize it.”

Mehdi Khazali, a critical blogger, was arrested by security forces on a Tehran street on January 9 and charged with “insulting the supreme leader,” according to news reports. His wife told the reformist news website Jonbesh-e Rah-e Sabz that he was beaten during his arrest and suffers from a broken arm and teeth, and an injured knee. He was held in solitary confinement in Evin Prison for over three weeks until he was transferred to the prison’s general population on Tuesday, news reports said. Khazali, the son of a high-ranking cleric, has criticized the regime since 2009 on his blog, which has been hacked by authorities and replaced with a pro-government message, according to CPJ research. He also wrote an article saying he would boycott the upcoming parliamentary elections. This is his fifth arrest since 2009, according to Jonbesh-e Rah-e Sabz

Authorities arrested journalist Saeed Razavi Faghih on January 17 at a Tehran airport as he arrived from Paris, where he lives, according to news reports. Faghih, who wrote for reformist publications Sobh-e Emrooz, Bahar, Doran-e Emrooz, and Vaghaye Etefaghieh, and the English-language news website Rooz Online, was being held in Evin Prison, news reports said. The journalist was arrested while visiting Iran in 2009 and released after 16 days on bail, news reports said. He was then tried in absentia for “propagating against the regime” and sentenced to four years in prison, according to news reports.

On January 17, security forces also arrested Payman Pakmehr, founder of Tabriz News website, which covers the arrests of local activists, in Tabriz and charged him with “propagating against the regime,” according to news reports. Pakmehr was released on bail of US$220,000 six days later, news reports said. Tabriz News‘ website remains blocked since his arrest, CPJ research shows.

Another Web technologist has been given the death penalty in Iran, according to news reports. Web technologist and writer Mehdi Alizadeh was sentenced to death last week at a Tehran Revolutionary Court and charged with being an “enemy of God,” according to news reports. Alizadeh was part of a group of Web technologists accused of hosting illegal content online. Three other technologists in the group–Saeed Malekpour, Vahid Asghari and Ahmad Reza Hasempour–were sentenced to death in early January by the same judge that sentenced Alizadeh, according to news reports. The technologist was arrested in 2008 but released on bail, then re-arrested in March 2011 and kept in Evin Prison ever since, news reports said. Alizadeh’s own blog, with several humorous articles and stories, has been deleted, CPJ research shows.

CPJ has documented the arrests of seven other Iranian journalists in January. The country was holding 42 journalists behind bars when CPJ conducted its annual census of imprisoned journalists on December 1, 2011.