Iran's press record needs scrutiny at U.N. General Assembly

September 9, 2014 6:02 PM ET

New York, September 9, 2014--The Committee to Protect Journalists is dismayed that dozens of journalists remain imprisoned in Iran more than a year after the inauguration of President Hassan Rouhani, who has pledged to seek more constructive engagement with the international community. CPJ calls on attendees of this month's U.N. General Assembly to urge Rouhani to ensure the release of all journalists imprisoned for their work.

"Any hopes that Iranian journalists may have had that their lives would be improved or their liberty restored under President Rouhani have been dashed," said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. "Rouhani has been unwilling or unable to challenge hardliners at home. So it is up to world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly this month to raise the issue of the mass imprisonment of journalists in Iran and call for an end to a press crackdown that has not let up since the contested 2009 presidential election."

Most recently, Shahla Sherkat, editor of the monthly magazine Zanan-e-Emrooz (Women Today), was summoned to court on September 7 over the magazine's inaugural issue published this year, according to news reports. It is not clear if Sherkat appeared in court or whether she was arrested or charged. Her previous publication, Zanan (Women), was banned in 2008, reports said.

Sherkat told Agence France-Presse last week that a complaint had been lodged against her for publishing pictures of women "considered as objects." On September 4, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei delivered a speech decrying Western values for "undermining the feminism wave," AFP reported.

Ammar Kalantari, editor-in-chief of Iran Free University News Agency (ANA) and former editor for multiple conservative websites, was arrested in his office on September 1, according to news reports. The reports did not specify why Kalantari had been arrested.

Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian and The National correspondent Yeganeh Salehi are still in custody after being arrested in July, according to news reports. The Iranian judiciary announced in August that the journalists, who are married, face "security-based" charges, but did not specify what the charges are or what evidence supports them. A third journalist, whose name is being withheld at the family's request and who was arrested on the same day as Rezaian and Salehi, was released on bail on August 20, according to The Washington Post.

That journalist was one of several recently released on bail. On September 3, blogger Seyed Hossein Ronaghi Maleki was released on bail of 1 billion toman (approximately US$350,000), according to the news website Rooz Online. Maleki's father told the website that the release would last for two months for medical reasons, but that he hoped that it would become permanent. In October 2010, a Revolutionary Court sentenced Ronaghi Maleki to 15 years in prison on anti-state conspiracy charges, the reformist news website Jonbesh-e-Rah-e-Sabz reported.

On August 20, Saba Azarpeik, a reformist journalist with the weekly Tejarat-e Farda and daily Etemad, was released on bail of 200 million toman (approximately US$70,000) after being held for three months in an undisclosed location, according to news reports. Azarpeik's mother told the semi-official ILNA News Agency that officials had told her that the journalist's charges were "propaganda against the state" in connection with her reporting on the raid on Evin Prison's Ward 350 in April 2014. The raid left many prisoners, including journalists, seriously injured.

Other journalists have been released upon completion of their prison sentences. Mohammad Davari, editor-in-chief of Saham News and CPJ's 2010 International Press Freedom awardee, was initially scheduled to be released on August 16 after serving a five-year sentence on anti-state charges, but Iranian authorities told Davari last month that he had to serve another 45 days in prison and pay a 300,000 toman fine (approximately US$110) to make up for time he spent out of prison on furlough, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said.

On Monday, without providing an explanation, authorities released Davari, according to the reformist news website Kaleme.

On September 3, political journalist and blogger Mehdi Mahmoudian was released after completing a five-year sentence on charges of "mutiny against the regime" after he documented complaints of rape and abuse of detainees at the Kahrizak Detention Center, the BBC reported citing reformist news websites. The reports said he was held 12 days longer than expected to make up for time he spent on furlough.

On August 23, Mohammad Reza Pourshajari, a blogger who wrote under the penname Siamak Mehr, was released after completing a four-year sentence on charges of anti-regime propaganda, insulting the Supreme Leader, and blasphemy, the independent press outlet Human Rights Activists News Agency reported. Pourshajari's daughter posted on Facebook on August 31 that her father had been summoned by the Karaj governor's office to the police passport office for questioning. The date and reason for the summons are not clear.

Iran has ranked among the world's top three worst jailers of the press every year since 2009, when dozens of journalists were arrested in the wake of the contested presidential election, according to CPJ research. With around 35 journalists in jail each, Iran and China are currently the leading jailers of journalists in the world. Many more journalists have cycled in and out of prison as part of Iran's revolving-door policy in which authorities free some detainees on furlough even as they make new arrests. At the same time, Iran has shut the door on U.N. human rights mechanisms, including failing to cooperate with the U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

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