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Key Developments

» Using imprisonment to silence critics, Iran is the world's worst jailer of journalists.

» CPJ names Iran one of the World's 10 Online Oppressors; authorities block millions of sites.

Two years after a contested presidential election, Tehran continued to use the mass imprisonment of journalists to silence dissent and quash critical news coverage. Imprisoned journalists suffered greatly amid the crowded and unsanitary conditions of notorious prisons such as Rajaee Shah and Evin. The health of many detainees severely deteriorated, while numerous others suffered abuse at the hands of prison guards. The detainees also faced a battery of punitive measures, from the denial of family visits to placement in solitary confinement. Authorities continued a practice of freeing some prisoners on furloughs while making new arrests. Six-figure bonds were often posted by the furloughed journalists who faced immense political pressure to falsely implicate their colleagues in crimes. While some large international news organizations maintained a presence in Tehran, their journalists could not move or report freely, particularly outside the capital. Politically sensitive topics such as the country's nuclear program or its plan to eliminate subsidies were largely off-limits to local and international reporters. The government also restricted adversarial reporting by using sophisticated technology to block websites, jamming satellite signals, and banning publications.

Analysis: Fear, Uncertainty Stalk Iranian Journalists in Exile

Journalists who have fled Iran to avoid prison face a tense and lengthy process toward resettlement, an uncertain financial and professional future, and most of all, fear that the Iranian government will catch up with them. Analysis by María Salazar-Ferro and Sheryl A. Mendez

  • 42

    Imprisoned on December 1, 2011
  • 21

    Held in solitary confinement
  • 18

    Forced into exile, 2010-11
  • 19.5

    Years in prison
  • 27.9

    Million Internet users

Iran has sustained a widespread campaign against critical journalists since civil unrest erupted after the disputed June 2009 presidential election.

Imprisoned in Iran on CPJ's annual census:

Authorities routinely placed journalists in solitary confinement, often as a means of coercing false confessions. Of the imprisoned journalists on CPJ's census, about half have been put in solitary confinement at one point during their detention. Journalists also suffered from deteriorating health and abuse by prison guards, CPJ research shows.

Detainees at risk:
12: Suffered from poor health
14: Reported some form of abuse in prison
5: Denied family visits
4: Denied medical care


Iran and Cuba topped the list of countries driving journalists into exile, according to CPJ research. Iran led the list for a second consecutive year; CPJ's 2009-10 survey found at least 29 Iranian editors, reporters, and photographers had fled into exile. The country's total exodus over the last decade is 66, behind only Ethiopia and Somalia, CPJ research shows.

Top countries from which journalists fled in 2010-11:

1. Iran (18)

1. Cuba (18)

3. Ethiopia (5)

3. Eritrea (5)


5. DRC (3)

5. Somalia (3)

5. Pakistan (3)



Among those being held in late 2011, blogger Hossein Derakhshan, who was detained in late 2008, was serving the longest documented sentence. In June, a Tehran appeals court upheld the 19½-year term on charges of “working with hostile governments,” “propaganda against the state,” and “insulting religious sanctities.”

Sentences being served by journalists in Iran:
6 months to 3 years: 4
4 to 6 years: 11
7 to 11 years: 2
12 to 15 years: 3
16-plus years: 1
Pending: 21


World Bank data show the number of Internet users in Iran, a country of about 74 million, more than doubled from 2006 to 2009, the most recent year available. Iranian authorities maintain one of the world's toughest Internet censorship regimes, using sophisticated tactics and blocking millions of websites, including numerous news websites and social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, CPJ research shows. Iranians often use proxy servers to overcome the obstacles. In a May report, CPJ named Iran one of the World's 10 Online Oppressors.

CPJ's 2011 Online Oppressors:

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