Iran targets reformist press in the run-up to elections

New York, March 7, 2013–Iranian authorities have banned three reformist news outlets and arrested four journalists in the past two days, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the Iranian government’s continuing attempts to stifle the press in the run-up to the presidential elections in June and calls on authorities to immediately halt their campaign of harassment against the media.

The semi-official ISNA news agency reported that the prosecutor’s office yesterday banned three media outlets: the monthlies Mehrnameh and Tajrobeh and the weekly Aseman. It was not clear how long the ban would be in place. The ISNA report also stated that authorities raided the reformist daily Maghreb yesterday and arrested its managing editor, Mohammad Mehdi Emami Nasseri, and its political editor, Ali Reza Aghaeirad. The Iranian authorities have previously targeted Mehrnameh, Aseman, and Maghreb, according to CPJ research.

The semi-official Fars News Agency reported that Nasseri was charged with publishing objectionable content then “temporarily” released today. Authorities did not specify what a “temporary” release meant. Maghreb had published an article on March 5 that included in its headline a campaign slogan by a prominent opposition politician.

News accounts also reported that two Kurdish journalists were arrested today. Intelligence officers detained Khosro Kurdpour, editor-in-chief of the local Moukrian News Agency, and Ghasem Ahmadi, editor-in-chief of the student-run news quarterly Rojhe, and also confiscated their personal belongings. Kurdpour’s brother, Massoud Kurdpour, told the BBC he believed the journalists were arrested for disseminating information about prisoners.

Iran began a wave of arrests on January 27, what is now called “Black Sunday,” the day authorities detained at least 14 journalists affiliated with reformist news outlets. In all, 23 journalists, including Nasseri, Aghaeirad, Kurdpour, and Ahmadi, have been arrested since then. At least five are still being held behind bars, along with dozens of other journalists who have been held for months or years.

News accounts reported that three journalists arrested on Black Sunday–Arman reporter Saba Azarpeik and Etemad reporters Sassan Aghaee and Nasrin Takhayori–were released on bail on Tuesday.

Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi said Monday that 600 Iranian journalists are part of an anti-state network, and that the arrests were an attempt to “prevent the emergence of sedition prior to the elections.” The Intelligence Ministry has repeatedly claimed that local journalists are working with a spy ring associated with the BBC, and have used this baseless accusation as an excuse for repressing local dissidents.

“The Iranian authorities are not only arresting journalists. They’re boasting about it,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “Violating international law is nothing to brag about. The government must end this campaign of intimidation and allow the press to report freely on the upcoming presidential elections.”

Iran has maintained a revolving-door policy for imprisoning journalists, freeing some detainees on furloughs even as new arrests are made. In its December 2012 prison census, CPJ found that Iran was the world’s second-worst jailer of journalists, with 45 journalists imprisoned in reprisal for their work. The threat of imprisonment has led scores of Iranian journalists to flee into exile in recent years.