Increasing press freedom violations in Iran

New York, February 14, 2012–The Iranian regime continued its sustained crackdown on the press, arresting a blogger, handing a journalist a harsh prison term, and banning a reformist news publication, according to news reports. The regime has also announced the mass arrest of several individuals with alleged links to the BBC Persian-language service, news reports said.

“The situation for journalists in Iran is going from bad to worse,” said Robert Mahoney, CPJ’s deputy director. “The Iranian authorities seem intent on silencing any independent or critical voices.”

Security forces arrested Mehdi Konjareh, a freelance journalist with several reformist publications, on February 2, as he left work, according to news reports. Later that day, security forces went to Konjareh’s home, searched the premises, and confiscated his computer and other personal items, news reports said. The journalist’s condition, whereabouts, and status were not immediately known.

On February 7, Mehdi Khazali, an online journalist and the son of a high-ranking cleric, was sentenced by the Tehran Revolutionary Court to 14 years in prison, 10 years in exile, and 90 lashes, according to human rights groups. Khazali was arrested on January 9 on charges of “insulting the Supreme Leader,” news reports said. He had written critically of the regime on his blog, which has since been hacked, according to CPJ research. Khazali’s lawyer told the U.S. government-funded Radio Farda that the journalist will appeal the decision.

Khazali’s son, Mohammed Saleh Khazali, told local human rights groups that the journalist had been waging a hunger strike and was transferred to the infirmary last week with a stomach ailment. Khazali had previously been held in solitary confinement for three weeks, news reports said. His son also said that the journalist was denied medical treatment for his arm, which had broken during his arrest.

“Not content with harassing and imprisoning journalists who dare criticize the government, the Iranian authorities now intend to flog them,” said CPJ’s Mahoney. “We call on the Revolutionary Court to lift the sentence of jail and 90 lashes.”

Iranian authorities banned reformist daily Roozegar for a month after it published a story in its February 5 edition with the headline, “We take no orders,” according to news reports. The story concerned an interview with the former president’s brother, Mohammed Reza Khatami, in which he said reformists will not participate in the upcoming parliamentary elections in March. Iran’s prosecutor’s office called the newspaper and informed the staff about the ban, news reports said. The paper had previously been banned for two months on September 5, according to CPJ research.

On February 6, days after the BBC stated that relatives of the BBC Persian-language service staff members had been detained or harassed, the semi-official Mehr news agency reported that Iranian authorities had arrested several people who produced content and reported for the BBC Persian-language service.

In a press conference on Monday, Iran’s Prosecutor General Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei said that a number of people with alleged links to the broadcaster were in custody because they had acted against national interest and that their cases were under judicial review. On February 7, the BBC said in a statement that there were no BBC Persian-language service staff members working in Iran. The number of arrested individuals, their identities, the charges against them, and their whereabouts were not disclosed.

This latest string of anti-press attacks comes amid 10 new arrests of journalists in January documented by CPJ. When CPJ conducted its annual prison census on December 1, 2011, Iran was holding 42 journalists in custody, the most in the world.