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Iranian journalists arrested ahead of elections

A guard stands in a hallway in the women's section of Tehran's Evin Prison, June 13, 2006. Journalist and activist Hengameh Shahidi was transferred to the prison last week. (Reuters/Morteza Nikoubazi)

New York, March 15, 2017--Iranian authorities should immediately release Ehsan Mazandarani, Hengameh Shahidi, and all journalists jailed for their work, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. The arrests come ahead of presidential elections scheduled for May.

Security forces detained Mazandarani, a reporter for the reformist daily newspaper Etemad and the former editor of the daily newspaper Farhikhtegan, from his home in Tehran on March 12, according to media reports. The reasons for Mazandarani's latest detention were not immediately clear, the reports said. The reformist website Kalame reported that Mazandarani phoned his family from Tehran's Evin Prison to say he was beginning a hunger strike.

The journalist was released from prison on February 11, having served 15 months of a two-year prison sentence on charges of "propagandizing against the state" and "collusion against national security."

Security forces in the northern Iranian city of Mashhad on March 9 detained Hengameh Shahidi, who also contributes to Etemad and the news website Gooya, according to media reports, which said she had traveled to Mashhad to attend her grandmother's funeral.

Mostafa Turk Hamedani, Shahidi's attorney, told the official ILNA news agency that he had requested permission to visit his client, but needed court approval first, because she is being charged with unspecified "national security crimes."

In addition to her work as a journalist, Shahidi is a member of the National Trust Party. In 2009, she was an adviser to opposition presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi, who has been under house arrest since 2011.

"Ehsan Mazandarani and Hengameh Shahidi are journalists, not criminals. They should be freed without delay," CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said from Washington, D.C. "If Iran wishes the coming presidential elections to be seen as free and fair, it must release its hold on the media and allow journalists to work without fear of reprisal."

In a separate incident, officers assaulted imprisoned journalist Issa Saharkhiz on his hospital bed in Tehran Heart Center on March 11, Mehdi Saharikhiz, the journalist's son, told CPJ. Mehdi Saharikhiz told CPJ that two officers overturned his father's bed as they searched underneath it.

"After my father protested, the officers physically assaulted him," Saharkhiz said.

Issa Saharkhiz was arrested in November 2015, three months before parliamentary elections. In September 2016, he was sentenced to 21 months in prison for "insulting the Supreme Leader."

Iran is scheduled to hold presidential elections in May. Iranian authorities have cracked down on independent or critical journalists ahead of past elections, CPJ research shows.

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