Five years ago on Monday, CPJ announced that Iran had officially become the world’s leading jailer of journalists in the world. The announcement came on the heels of an unprecedented crackdown on the press that began on June 12, 2009, the day of Iran’s tumultuous presidential election that sparked a mass protest movement.
On election day in 2009, at least nine journalists were behind bars. Only 26 days later on July 7, that number had spiked to 39 journalists. That stupefying number has since become the new normal for Iran, which has ranked among the world’s top three worst jailers of the press every year since.
To look back at those critical 26 days, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program (@CPJMena) has been “live tweeting” these arrests and other major press violations on their five-year anniversaries as part of a social media campaign. All of these tweets have been saved in a timeline of the crackdown using the social media tool Storify.
Our goal is not simply to remember the 2009 crackdown as it happened–that could imply that the crackdown has ended, that it has been put in the past tense. The truth is the crackdown that began five years ago continues unabated. The 2009 crackdown did not just happen five years ago. It is happening today.
Our goal, therefore, is to look back at 2009 as a critical turning point for press freedom in Iran in order to mobilize against the continued persecution of journalists today. It is to remind everyone that there is nothing normal about having dozens of journalists behind bars. And it is to urge all parties–both in Iran and beyond–to stand together to finally put an end to the crackdown.
There is much work to do. Below are but a few examples of the most recent arrests and prosecutions of journalists (more information on these cases can be found here).
- On Monday, cultural reporter Marzieh Rasouli tweeted that she will report to Evin Prison today to begin serving a two-year prison sentence on charges of “propaganda against the regime” and “disrupting public order through participation in gatherings,” according to news reports. She was originally arrested in January 2012.
- On June 28, 2014, Iranian journalist and CPJ International Press Freedom Awardee Mashallah Shamsolvaezin wrote on his Facebook page that he had been charged with “propaganda against the state” related to his interviews with media and speeches he gave at two regional and international journalism conferences. He said he was released on bail of 2 billion riyals (approximately US$80,000).
- On June 21, 2014, Reihaneh Tabatabei, a journalist who worked for Shargh and Bahar, was summoned to Evin Prison to begin serving a six-month prison sentence for prior charges related to “publishing news about the Green Movement,” according to reports.
- On June 20, 2014, critical blogger Mehdi Khazali was arrested while on a trip to the north of Iran, according to news reports. Reports said the arrest could be in connection with a critical blog post Khazali wrote that accused Ayatollah Mahdavi Kani of corruption and embezzlement. Kani is the head of the Assembly of Experts, the clerical body charged with electing the Supreme Leader. It is not clear if Khazali has been charged.
- On June 19, 2014, the Kerman province prosecutor announced that 11 staff members of Pat Shargh Govashir, a company that owns the popular Iranian technology news website Narenji and its sister sites, Nardebaan and Negahbaan, had been sentenced to between one and 11 years in prison on charges of receiving training from and producing content for the BBC, according to news reports.
- On June 7, 2014, Iranian documentary filmmaker Mahnaz Mohammadi reported to Evin Prison to begin serving a five-year prison sentence, according to news reports. The government charged Mohammadi with propaganda and collusion against the state, claiming she was cooperating with the BBC, but she denied ever working with the channel, the reports said.
- On May 28, 2014, Saba Azarpeik, a reformist journalist with the weekly Tejarat-e Farda and daily Etemad, was arrested at the Tejarat-e Farda offices, according to news reports. Azarpeik, who was arrested previously in 2013, has often written critically of conservative officials and human rights abuses in the country, the reports said.
Our “live tweeting” campaign ended yesterday, but CPJ will continue to speak out on behalf of the dozens of imprisoned journalists in Iran. We hope you do the same.