Iran arrests journalists in largest crackdown since 2009

New York, January 28, 2013–At least 14 journalists affiliated with reformist news outlets were arrested in Iran on Saturday and Sunday in the largest crackdown on the press since 2009, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Iranian authorities to immediately release all journalists in custody and halt their practice of imprisoning critical journalists.

Security officers raided the offices of reformist publications Bahar, Shargh, Arman, Etemad, and Aseman Weekly and arrested several journalists, according to news reports. At least one journalist was arrested at his home on Sunday, the reports said. It is unclear if any of the journalists have been formally charged.

Local news accounts reported that the journalists in custody included Milad Fadai Asl, editor of Iran Labour News Agency (ILNA); Shargh reporters Pouria Alemi and Pejman Mousavi; Shargh editor Kayvan Mehregan; Soleiman Mohammadi, editor of Bahar; Emily Amraee, reporter for Bahar; Etemad reporters Sassan Aghaee and Nasrin Takhiri; Javad Deliri, editor-in-chief of Etemad; Akbar Montajebi, editor-in-chief of Aseman Weekly; Hossein Yaghchi, a member of Aseman Weekly‘s editorial board; Arman reporters Motahareh Shafiee, Narges Joudaki, and Saba Azarpeik.

Authorities have also issued arrest warrants for at least three other journalists. Sadra Mohaghegh, a reporter for Shargh; Reihaneh Tabatabei, a reporter for Bahar; and Ehsan Mazandarani, a reporter for Etemad were told by their colleagues that security officers had asked for them during the raids on the offices, according to local news reports. One of the journalists has chosen to go into hiding to escape arrest, according to CPJ sources.

The semi-official Fars News Agency reported that the journalists were arrested for cooperating with “anti-revolutionary media.” The mass arrests follow a statement made to reporters by Gholamhossein Moseni Ejei, Iran’s prosecutor general and the spokesman for the judiciary, who said that “several journalists have their hands in the hands of Westerners and anti-revolutionaries.” Ejei also said that no one should complain if those individuals were arrested for criminal acts because they were the “mouthpiece and podium of the enemy,” Fars reported.

CPJ believes the arrests are consistent with attacks against reformist news outlets in 2009 that weakened what was once a vibrant media in the country. Conservative authorities and their allies in the government are aiming to weaken reformist candidates and their supporters ahead of the Iranian presidential elections in June.

“With this wave of arrests, the authorities appear to be attempting to pre-emptively silence independent news coverage ahead of the presidential election in June,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “We call on Iranian authorities to free all detained journalists and halt this never-ending effort to brand critics as enemies of the state.”

Iran has stepped up its campaign against the press in recent months. In October, the Iranian government shut down the Reuters office in Tehran, news reports said. Authorities have also repeatedly harassed relatives of the staff of the BBC Persian service, attempting to intimidate them into halting their family members from reporting critically on Iran.

Iran has maintained a revolving-door policy for imprisoning journalists, freeing some detainees on furloughs even as they make new arrests. In 2012, CPJ ranked the country the world’s second-worst jailer of journalists with 45 journalists imprisoned in reprisal for their work.

  • For more information and analysis, please visit CPJ’s Iran page here.