Even during ordinary times, journalists who are simply doing their professional duties can face punishment, including imprisonment. Since the June 2009 presidential election, this risk has become much greater. Several journalists have had to flee the country; many others who remained have been detained. They commonly face accusations such as “endangering national security,” “propagating against Islam” or the regime, or “espionage.” Those who have had links to the Western media have come under particularly high scrutiny.
More on this issue
• CPJ survey:
37 journalists jailed
• CPJ cites
• Video Report:
Imprisoned in Iran
Security agents have summoned many journalists to tell them they are being monitored and should be careful. Sometimes the agents ask the journalists about their work and connections; they have also told photographers to share photographs from opposition demonstrations. Some journalists succumb to these pressures. As one told me, “You have to in order to survive.” Some of those who have resisted have been arrested, particularly when the authorities want to make an example of someone and scare his or her colleagues into silence.
Detainees are often considered guilty to begin with and are denied basic rights to due process. They tend to be held in solitary confinement for an extended period, cut off from the outside world, and denied legal counsel. Iran’s hard-liners have had little sympathy for many journalists it arrests. For example, journalist Ahmad Zaid-Abadi was sentenced to six years in prison, followed by five years of internal exile in the remote town of Gonabad.
The only crime committed by such journalists has been to speak about and show what they see around them. Their work has enriched people’s knowledge and awareness about the realities inside Iran.
We can do our part by signing petitions, bringing attention to the plight of journalists in Iran, and supporting Iranian journalists who have had to flee their country. If enough people take steps like these over a continuous period of time, they can make a difference.
Roxana Saberi is a freelance American journalist who was detained for 100 days in 2009 in Iran on charges of espionage. Her book, Between Two Worlds: My Life and Captivity in Iran, chronicles her experiences and the stories of her fellow political prisoners in Evin Prison.