• Dozens of journalists are detained in massive post-election crackdown.
• Numerous critical newspapers, Web sites censored or shut down.
23: Journalists imprisoned as of December 1, 2009.
Amid the greatest national political upheaval since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran launched a full-scale assault on the media and the opposition. In mid-June, mass protests erupted in response to official election results showing incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad winning by a large margin against his main opposition challenger, reformist Mir-Hossein Mousavi. The government responded with a wide-ranging and cruel campaign to suppress dissent. As protests against perceived electoral fraud spiraled into mass demonstrations, Iranian authorities threw dozens of journalists behind bars (where many were reportedly tortured), shuttered and censored news outlets, and barred foreign journalists from reporting. During the protests and crackdown, blogs and social media sites became front-line news sources. The crackdown increased the level of repression in a regime already hostile toward the press, and followed the months-long imprisonment of an Iranian-American freelance journalist, Roxana Saberi.
THE PRESS: 2009
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MIDDLE EAST and NORTH AFRICA
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Human rights coverage spreads despite government pushback
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Saberi’s detention, as
well as the arrests of three American hikers who strayed across the Iraqi
border in July, played out against a backdrop of international diplomatic
Signs that Iranian
authorities would seek to stifle the free flow of information about the
presidential election emerged nearly immediately. SMS text message service was
disrupted starting hours before the polls opened on June 12, and mobile phone
service was shut down on June 13, the day election results were released. In
the days after the disputed vote, Iranian security forces and members of the
paramilitary Basij militia assaulted and harassed journalists attempting to
cover escalating public demonstrations. Authorities clamped down on foreign
media coverage, jamming the BBC’s Persian television and radio service and the
Foreign journalists were ordered not to cover the protests or any “news events” not announced by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. Several journalists working for foreign media were detained and their tapes, equipment, and other work products were confiscated. Press cards were declared invalid, and Iranian authorities rejected requests by foreign journalists to extend their one-week visas. Foreign journalists who had been invited by the government to cover the elections left the country as their visas expired, or were expelled even before this could happen.
Restricting the foreign
press appeared to serve the dual purpose of limiting coverage of internal
upheaval and the graphic abuse of protesters, while pinning the unrest on
Western interference in
Five days after the vote,
two Tehran-based newspapers were barred from publishing by the Ministry of
Culture and Islamic Guidance. The daily Hayat
e No had planned to run a
front-page article about the protests, and the daily Aftab e
Iranian bloggers have long
been regional trailblazers in using the Internet to get around official
censorship. Even so, online journalists have frequently been targeted by the
authorities; in April, CPJ named
In the weeks after the protests, thousands of activists and supporters of reformist candidates were detained by the Iranian security apparatus. So were more than 90 journalists and media workers, according to CPJ research. Those detained included bloggers, photographers, newspaper editors, reporters, filmmakers, media activists, cartoonists, producers, and editorialists who had been critical toward the regime or supportive of reformist candidates. Many were seized by intelligence agents who raided and searched their houses. Kamaeh Sabz, a reformist newspaper owned by Mousavi, saw much of its staff rounded up by authorities during the crackdown.
At least 23 journalists
were still being jailed on December 1, when CPJ conducted its annual worldwide
census of imprisoned journalists, making
Journalists were among the 100 detainees who faced a mass, televised judicial proceeding in August on vague antistate accusations, including “endangering national security” and “involvement with foreign powers in order to topple the regime.” The mass hearings were riddled with procedural irregularities, CPJ research indicated, and were open only to state-owned media. On August 25, about 20 of the defendants, including at least four journalists, were accused in a Revolutionary Court in Tehran of attempting “a soft coup d’etat,” and of “lying” and spreading “rumors of fraud in the election,” Iranian state broadcaster Press TV reported. Four defense lawyers said they had been barred from attending one hearing; one reported being threatened with arrest when attempting to enter the hall.
CPJ expressed deep concern about the health of the detained journalists and the conditions in which they were being held. Iranian authorities released “confessions” by several of the detained journalists that appeared to have been coerced. The journalists’ lawyers were denied access to their clients in prison, while police chief Gen. Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam publicly admitted that detainees had been tortured in custody. The wife of one detainee, Ahmad Zaid-Abadi, was allowed to see her husband only after he had spent 53 days in custody, during which he had gone on a 17-day hunger strike. Speaking to the German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle, Zaid-Abadi’s wife described the 1-by-1.5-meter room in which he was held, alone, during his hunger strike as “a place like a grave.” In November, Zaid-Abadi was convicted on antistate charges and sentenced to six years in prison, five years in exile in Khorasan province, and a lifetime ban on social and political activity.
Nearly all of the
journalists detained in the aftermath of the elections were working for local
media outlets, including Web sites and newspapers affiliated with reformist
candidates, according to CPJ research. A handful, however, were working for
international media. These included a freelance photographer for Getty Images,
Majid Saeedi, who had worked in
The journalists arrested
in the crackdown were added to the ranks of at least six who were already in
Iranian jails at the time of the election. One of the six, freelance journalist
Massoud Kurdpour, was released from Mahabad Central Prison in northwestern
In late January,
In July, a
At least two journalists
have died at Evin Prison in the last six years under circumstances that have
not been fully explained, CPJ research shows, including Omidreza Mirsayafi, a
blogger who died in March while serving a 30-month sentence on a charge of
On July 31, Iranian forces
detained three young Americans who strayed over the border into