Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Iran Tightens Its Fist on Reporters; 11 Iranian Journalists Arrested
Iran's brutal crackdown on journalists and information that began after the announcement of the disputed presidential election results is continuing and getting worse as journalists are being rounded up and arrested, reports Reporters sans frontières, whose press release and report are the sources of this post. Additional censorship measures have been adopted as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tries to suppress media coverage of fraud allegations.
“Independent sources of news and information find it very hard to make their voice heard now in Iran because of the censorship,” Reporters sans frontières said. “The authorities are tightening their grip on all news media and means of communication that could be used to dispute Ahmadinejad reelection ‘victory’. They are doing everything possible to limit coverage of the consequences of the election fraud.”
The advocacy agency reiterates its appeal to the international community not to recognise the results of the presidential election first round held on June 12.
“A democratic election is one in which the media are free to monitor the electoral process and investigate fraud allegations but neither of these two conditions has been met for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s supposed reelection,” the agency said. “We urge the international community, especially European countries, not to recognise the results announced by the authorities as long as the electoral process is subject to censorship. An election won by means of censorship and arrests of journalists is not democratic.”
The security services have moved into the offices of newspapers where they are reading articles and censoring content. Mehdi Karoubi, one of the candidates, referred to the censorship in a press release. “I cannot even publish my release in my newspaper Etemad Meli,” he said.
The newspaper’s front page shows a photo of Ahmadinejad at a rally with columns left blank because of editing by the censors. The newspaper Velayat in the province of Qazvin (north of Tehran) has been suspended for publishing a cartoon of Ahmadinejad.
Even governmental news sources have been targeted in the crackdown. Four interior ministry officials have been arrested for given results that were different from those announced by Ahmadinejad’s allies, Reporters sans frontières said.
Four pro-reform newspapers have been closed or prevented from criticizing the official election results following a warning from Tehran prosecutor general Said Mortazavi. Kalameh Sabaz, a daily owned by opposition presidential candidate Mirhossein Mousavi, had its distribution blocked and it was forced to change a front page announcing Mousavi’s victory. It has not been able to publish any issue since June 13.
Eleven Iranian journalists have been arrested since June 12. Reza Alijani, Hoda Sabaer and Taghi Rahmani were arrested on June 13. Alijani and Rahmani were released yesterday evening. Freelancer Kivan Samimi Behbani, the former editor of Nameh (“The Letter”), an independent monthly closed in 2005, and Ahamad Zeydabadi were also arrested and then released.
Abdolreza Tajik was arrested at midday yesterday at the headquarters of the newspaper Farhikhtegan by three men in plain-clothes. A member of the Human Rights Defenders Centre, Tajik has worked for many Iranian publications that have been closed by the authorities, including Bahar (closed in 2001), Hambastegi (closed in 2003) and Shargh (closed in 2008).
Five of the journalists arrested in the past few days are still detained. They include Said Shariti, the editor of the news website Nooroz, who is being held by the police, and Mahssa Amrabadi of the daily Etemad Melli. She was arrested at her home yesterday by intelligence ministry agents who came with a warrant for the arrest of her husband, fellow-journalist Masoud Bastani. He was not at home at the time.
Two women journalists working at the Mousavi campaign headquarters were physically attacked on June 12. The Mousavi campaign news centre was ransacked on June 13 by Ahmadinejad supporters, who destroyed its computers. The Qalam News agency operated out of this centre.
There is no word of about 10 other journalists who have either been arrested or gone into hiding.
Iran is also fighting against the Internet, controlling and blocking all news websites likely to challenge Ahmadinejad’s announced victory. Ten or so pro-opposition websites have been censored. Most of the world is getting its news out of Iran from Twitter and other Internet sites.
The censored websites include www.entekhab.ir/ (inaccessible since June 11), www.ayandenews.com/ (inaccessible since June 12), teribon.com/, the pro-reform sites khordadeno.com/, aftabnews.ir/index.php and ghalamesabz.com/, norooznews.ir (the news website of the pro-Mousavi Islamic Participation Party) and www.ghalamsima.com/ (which also supports the Mousavi campaign). And the women’s rights website www.we-change.org/ has been blocked for the 20th time.
The international websites YouTube and Facebook are hard to access, the journalism agency reports. The mobile phone network is being jammed. The service of the leading mobile phone operator, which is state controlled, has been suspended since 10 p.m. on 13 June. The SMS messaging network has been cut since the morning of June 12, preventing use of Twitter.
The blockage of the foreign media has been stepped up. In addition to the blocking of the BBC’s website, the Farsi-language satellite broadcasts of the VOA and BBC – which are very popular in Iran – have been partially jammed. The BBC reported that their Farsi broadcasts have been the target of significant jamming “coming from Iran” since 12:45 Greenwich Mean Time on June 12, and that the jamming has been getting steadily worse.
The authorities yesterday ordered the Tehran bureau of the Arab satellite TV news station Al-Arabiya closed for a week after it broadcast video of the first demonstration following the announcement of Ahmadinejad’s reelection.
Foreign journalists have been prevented from covering the demonstrations, some have been notified that their visas will not be renewed, and some have been the victims of police violence. A member of a TV crew working for the Italian station RAI and a Reuters reporter were beaten by police in the capital. A BBC TV crew was threatened by police at one point, but demonstrators chased the police away. The correspondents of the German TV stations ARD and ZDF were forbidden to leave their hotel on June 13. Reuters reports that its journalists are banned from leaving their office or taking pictures.
Two Dutch TV journalists working for Nederland 2 were arrested and expelled. Reporter Yolanda Alvarez of the Spanish television station TVE was deported together with her crew today.