Iran persists in its crackdown against journalists

New York, September 12, 2012–Continuing their three-year-long clampdown on journalists covering human rights, minority groups, and political reform, Iranian authorities have summoned two journalists to begin prison terms and are bringing two others to trial.

“These actions are not only a terrible injustice but a reminder to every journalist in Iran that they can be jailed at any time for their critical reporting,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon.

Authorities summoned Shiva Nazar Ahari, a blogger and founding member of the Committee of Human Rights Reporters (CHRR), on Saturday to begin serving her prison sentence in the women’s ward of Tehran’s Evin Prison, according to CHRR. In 2010, Nazar Ahari was sentenced to six years in prison on charges of moharebeh, or “waging war against God,” “propagating against the regime,” and “acting against national security” for reporting on political gatherings, according to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. In January 2011, an appeals court reduced her sentence to four years in prison and 74 lashes, news reports said.

Nazar Ahari has been targeted by authorities in the past. Following the disputed presidential elections in June 2009, she was arrested twice and spent several months in Evin Prison, including time in solitary confinement, news reports said.

In the other case, Zhila Bani Yaghoub, a former editor of the banned reformist daily Sarmayeh, began serving a one-year prison term on September 2 in Evin Prison’s women’s ward, according to news reports. She was sentenced in 2010 to a year in prison on anti-state charges and banned from practicing journalism for 30 years, news reports said.

Bani Yaghoub was arrested in June 2009 with her husband, Bahman Ahmadi Amouee, who is also a journalist, news reports said. Amouee, who is serving a five-year sentence, was transferred out of Evin Prison and sent to Rajaee Shahr Prison earlier this year, according to news reports.

Two other journalists are currently awaiting trial. Kasra Nouri, a reporter for the news website Majzooban-e Noor, has been detained since March on charges that included “propagating against the regime in favor of foreigners,” her employer reported. The journalist’s trial began on August 29, in which she was indicted for “publishing falsehoods and creating public anxiety through membership in the Majzooban-e Noor website,” according to the same source. Majzooban-e Noor reports on the widespread persecution of the Gonabadi Dervishes religious minority, according to news reports. Nouri is awaiting trial in prison, news reports said.

Abbas Khosravi Faresani, a political blogger who criticized the government, is free on bail pending trial, according to news reports. He was arrested in the city of Isfahan on anti-state charges in June, news reports said. Faresani was held for 20 days in Isfahan’s Central Prison, where he was tortured to confess to the charges of “acting against national security through creating public anxiety and publishing lies,” “insulting the Supreme Leader and regime high officials,” and being a member of “enemy organizations that are related to Israel,” the reports said.

Iran is one of the world’s worst jailers of the press, holding dozens of journalists in abusive conditions. Issa Saharkhiz, who has been jailed since July 2009, began refusing food and medication on Monday to protest his transfer back to Evin Prison on August 28, according to several reformist news websites. Saharkhiz had been at a local hospital since February to receive medical treatment for a heart condition, but authorities moved him back to prison against the wishes of his doctor, news reports said.

Another journalist, Mohammad Davari, former editor-in-chief of Saham News website and a CPJ International Press Freedom Award recipient, has also been harassed while in prison. Davari was stripped naked and searched as he re-entered the prison after a short visit to a hospital for a medical exam, according to reformist news websites. Davari is serving a five-year sentence on anti-state charges and has not been allowed a single day of furlough in the three years he has been jailed, CPJ research shows.

One journalist in Evin Prison was flogged in mid-August during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, according to news reports. Siamak Ghaderi, a freelance reporter who is serving a four-year prison term, told his wife that he and 13 political prisoners had been lashed, according to the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Iranian authorities released several prisoners, including a number of journalists, on August 15, the end of Ramadan, according to news reports. Hamzeh Karami, Ali Malihi, Nazanin Khosravani, Farshad Ghorbanpour, and Rahman Bouzari were all freed, but it is unclear if their release is temporary.

Since 2009, Iran’s regime has maintained a revolving-door policy for imprisoning journalists and has held dozens of journalists at any given time. When CPJ conducted its annual prison census on December 1, 2011, Iran was holding 42 journalists in custody.

  • For more data and analysis on Iran, visit CPJ’s Iran page here.