Iran arrests journalists, bans newspaper ahead of elections

New York, January 11, 2016–Iranian authorities should immediately release Farzad Pourmoradi, Meysam Mohammadi, and all journalists detained for their work, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Authorities should furthermore lift the ban on the daily newspaper Bahar, CPJ said. The arrests and the ban on the newspaper come ahead of legislative elections scheduled to begin February 26.

“Iranian authorities are clearly trying to intimidate the press ahead of parliamentary elections, and in the process they are undermining the legitimacy of the vote,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour.

Officers from the Revolutionary Guards arrested Farzad Pourmoradi, a freelance journalist who has contributed to the Kermanshah Post and Navai Vaghat newspapers, as he left his home on January 3, according news reports and the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA). Arresting officers searched Pourmoradi’s house and seized his computer, mobile phone, and tablet, but did not immediately disclose any charges against him, according to reports. Pourmoradi had recently started a public channel in the encrypted messaging service Telegram to report on news related to Iran’s legislative elections, news reports said.

Officials on Friday sent Meysam Mohammadi, the former editor of the reformist daily newspaper Kalameh Sabz, to Tehran’s Evin Prison to begin serving a four-year prison term, according to news reports. Police had summoned Mohammadi for questioning earlier in the week, but arrested him unexpectedly. Mohammadi was freed on bail after serving two months in pretrial detention following his February 2011 arrest. He remained free, pending appeal, after Tehran’s Revolutionary Court sentenced him to four years in prison on charges of “plotting against national security” in 2012.

Prosecutors on January 2 ordered the reformist daily newspaper Bahar to cease publishing on the grounds that it “propagandized against the state and published material harmful to the foundation of the Islamic Republic,” according to local news reports. Mansour Ghanavati, the newspaper’s editor, told the BBC’s Persian service that he did not know on what the charge was based. Bahar has frequently run afoul of authorities: Courts have ordered the newspaper to suspend operations at least twice before, and police have arrested its journalists.

“We call on Iranian authorities to release Farzad Pourmoradi, Meysam Mohammadi, and all other journalists in custody for their work, and lift the ban on Bahar newspaper,” said CPJ’s Mansour.

As of December 1, 2015, when CPJ conducted its annual, global census of imprisoned journalists, Iran had 19 journalists in custody, making it the third worst jailer of journalists in the world. On January 6, journalist Issa Saharkhiz resumed his hunger strike to protest his imprisonment in Evin Prison, now in its second month, his son Mehdi told reporters.