The e-mails started on July 15, 2009, and have continued ever since—pleas for help from Iranian journalists who fled their country often with little money and scarce provisions to northern Iraq, Turkey, Afghanistan, India, and a host of other locales around the world. Many lived in hiding throughout Iran for weeks or months before crossing perilous borders when it soon became apparent that their homes and country were no longer safe havens for their return.
One veteran journalist
(whose name I’m withholding for his protection) was on the run with his family
for nearly six months coping with diabetes, hypertension, heart failure and
fear before with the help of CPJ being evacuated to Europe.
He went underground shortly after the June
12 elections and continued to provide some of the most disarming,
disquieting and personal accounts of the post-election atmosphere and events.
16, as a wave
of arrests swept up journalists, photographers,
a neighbor warned him that security agents had stormed his apartment and
searched the premises. He received warnings and threats in response to his work
as he continued to report on his blog about human rights issues, such as the
treatment and rape of detainees in Iran’s prisons:
“I was traced many
times. Each time we quickly left our residence and ran away. Once we were
forced to leave the remainder of our personal effects in our rented room and to
avoid the agents who had followed us we had to leave for another city
overnight. During this time, we stayed in 70 different houses, rented rooms or
camping sites. Changing our names and appearances we avoided places where
police or Basij might be present. On September 21, after I ran out of money and
energy, we left Iran through
the Kurdistan border, arriving Iraq.
We lost our home and belongings during our escape and the last thing we lost
was our car. I gave up my entire belongings in return for a few days of freedom
so that I could defend my people's rights without suppression. What I had
anticipated to be a few days turned into 105 days.”
The sense of insecurity
in the lives of Iran’s
journalists and their families is omnipresent. Whether at home or abroad one
waits; in Iran
you’re waiting in a cell
or in the prison your home has become for you. Waiting in a second country for resettlement
out of the region is no easier.
A female Iranian journalist
fearing retaliation for her work arrived in India in October 2009 seeking
protection. Less than five months later the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs ordered
her deportation to Iran.
The order was in response to the February bombing of a popular
German bakery in Pune
City, which ushered in a
heightened atmosphere of suspicion of foreigners living in the area. Fearing
return to Iran,
she contacted CPJ’s Journalist
Assistance program to help cancel the order. In collaboration with the Media Legal Defence Initiative based in
CPJ contacted Indian authorities in Pune who agreed to grant a stay of
deportation. The order, to date, however, has not been fully cancelled.
One primary exit route
for Iranians is through Turkey,
where they are not required to obtain a visa prior to entering the country. According
to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) at present, 1,356
Iranian refugees and asylum seekers have fled to Turkey since June 2009. Although
the U.N. agency says that there is not a significant increase in the numbers of
Iranians entering, there is a telling shift in the profiles of those who fled. “Many
of the newcomers are journalists, academics and/or perceived by the regime to
be supporting the opposition,” said Metin Corabatir, UNHCR’s
spokesman in Turkey, in an interview in May 2010 with Agence
One Iranian journalist
waiting in Turkey
for settlement in a third country is freelance journalist and human rights
activist Aida Sadat. She was repeatedly harassed, interrogated, and physically
assaulted in Iran
and eventually fled in the aftermath of the June 2009 elections. She said she
had been told by her attackers several times that next time she would be
killed, but her attempts to find protection in Iran were futile. “I could not find
to defend me as a journalist,” Sadat said. “They had been silenced.”
Scores of other journalists
before the 2009 elections, under similar crackdowns
no less threatening than those of the present day. In fact, July 2009 marked
anniversary of another siege on the
media when government authorities tried to muzzle free speech.
Assigned to one of the
32 Turkish cities accommodating asylum seekers, Iranian refugees
wait for UNHCR to arrange third-country resettlement which except for the most
vulnerable cases may take years. For nearly two years, veteran Iranian editor
and publisher Ali Vahid has been waiting in Turkey; threats against his life
have followed him throughout.
Javad Moghimi Parsa, whose symbolic photograph
of post-election demonstrations appeared on the June 29, 2009, cover of Time magazine, his crime was sending
photographs to enemy
agencies—in this case, news agencies—a charge which saw many of his
in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison.
He too, like Vahid, has received ongoing threats via e-mail and SMS to his
mobile phone. Parsa, like many of his colleagues, told CPJ that just as Iranian
refugees do not require a visa to enter Turkey,
neither do Iran’s state
agents who, they all believe, operate clandestinely within Turkey’s
Assistance program continues to receive e-mails on a daily basis from Iranian
journalists fleeing their homeland, their homes, and families due to false
accusations of spying for a foreign government, acting against national
security, having relations with foreigners, and propagating
against the regime.
To date, Journalist Assistance has
helped Iranian journalists resettle to Europe and North
America by providing letters of support for their cases before the
UNHCR and foreign embassies. We have provided emergency evacuation, airline
tickets, and organized legal counsel and much needed financial aide, and, where
necessary, medical assistance.