With new round of journalist detentions, prosecutions, Iran continues to silence press

New York, January 9, 2015–A new wave of arrests and prosecutions has been carried out by Iranian authorities in the past month, cementing the country’s status as one of the world’s leading jailers of journalists, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

“Iran has started the new year as it ended the old: by arresting journalists,” said CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, Sherif Mansour. “President Hassan Rouhani has not lived up to expectations that he would usher in a new era for the Iranian press. The very least he can do now is publicly and unequivocally call for their release.”

Iranian journalist and blogger Saeed Pourheydar was arrested in Tehran on January 4, according to news reports. Pourheydar has written for numerous reformist outlets, including the dailies Hambastegi, Mardomsalari, and Sobh-e Emrooz and online website Radio Zamaneh and has given interviews to foreign-based media, including BBC Persian, Voice of America, and Radio Farda. Authorities have not disclosed the reason for Pourheydar’s arrest or where he is being held.

Pourheydar was arrested twice in 2009 and was given a five-year suspended sentence in 2010 on charges including “propaganda against the state,” “insulting the president,” and “questioning Islamic principles,” news reports said. After Pourheydar was released on bail, he left Iran in December 2010. During a stay in the U.S., Pourheydar testified to human rights organizations, including the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, about prison abuse and torture. He returned to Iran almost two months ago, the reports said.

Separately, authorities announced on December 30 that imprisoned Iranian cleric and blogger Arash Honarvar Shojaei had been sentenced to another four years in prison, 50 lashes, permanent defrocking, and a fine of approximately US$250 on charges of “propaganda against the state” and “insulting the Supreme Leader,” according to news reports. It is not clear when the sentence was handed down in court.

Shojaei is serving a separate four-year term in Tehran’s Evin Prison on charges of “acting against national security,” “espionage,” and “cooperating with foreign embassies,” as well as a one-year sentence for “insulting Imam Khomeini,” according to news reports. The new charges are related to an interview he gave to the reformist Kaleme website and statements he made about the Special Clerics Court, which he said treated him cruelly and did not allow him medical treatment while trying him on the original charges.

In a November 30 ruling that was not made public until December 28, the Tehran Revolutionary Court sentenced Reihaneh Tabatabei, a journalist who worked for Shargh and Bahar newspapers, to a year in prison and a two-year ban on journalistic and political activity on charges of “propaganda against the state,” according to news reports. The ruling cited a June 2013 interview Tabatabei conducted for Bahar with Iranian Sunni leader Molana Abdolhamid, which the court said was an example of her attempting to divide the country along ethnic and religious lines. She was also accused of insulting conservative officials on Facebook.

Tabatabei was sentenced weeks after being released from prison following the completion of a six-month prison sentence on charges related to publishing news about the Green Movement, according to reports.

In a separate case, Yaghma Fakhshami, a reporter for the daily newspaper Rouzan, was arrested on December 25, news reports said. Almost two weeks after his arrest, authorities have not disclosed his location or any charges against him.

Two days before Fakhshami’s arrest, the Tehran prosecutor’s office ordered Rouzan to be shut down after it published a special edition on December 20 on the fifth anniversary of the death of Grand Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri, who had been put under house arrest due to disagreements with Supreme Leader Khomeini and, later, Supreme Leader Khamenei. Saham News reported that when Rouzan‘s managing editor, Shamsi Pourmohammadi, contacted the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, he was told the Ministry said it opposed the closure over the special edition.

With at least 30 journalists imprisoned in relation to their work, Iran ranked second on CPJ’s 2014 census of imprisoned journalists. Journalists held by the Iranian regime are often denied due process and adequate medical care. Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian, who has now been held for nearly six months, has lost nearly 20 percent of his body weight, his brother, Ali, told the Guardian in December. Blogger Mohammad Reza Pourshajari, also known as Siamak Mehr, has been repeatedly threatened to death by interrogators while being held on charges including “propaganda against the system,” according to an article his daughter Mitra Pourshajari wrote for The Daily Beast.