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Iran must explain journalist arrests

Jason Rezaian and Yeganeh Saleh (AFP)

It has now been six days since the Washington Post's Jason Rezaian, The National's Yeganeh Salehi and two others were arrested in Iran, but we are no closer to understanding who detained them or why. Even the number of journalists arrested is in dispute.

The Washington Post originally said its correspondent Rezaian, his wife Salehi, and two unnamed photojournalists had been detained on July 22, a report we repeated in our statement Thursday calling for their release. But our colleagues at Reporters Without Borders reported only three journalists were arrested--Rezaian, Salehi, an unnamed Iranian-American freelance photographer, and her non-journalist husband--saying the photographer's family had asked for her name to be withheld. The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran also said the fourth individual, the husband, is not a journalist.

The Campaign said it has heard other people had been arrested in the case, but it has not yet been able to confirm that claim independently.

So far the only official confirmation of the arrests came from Gholam-Hossein Esmaili, the head of the Justice Department in Tehran Province, who told the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency on Friday that the judiciary would provide information on the arrests after the completion of "technical investigations." He provided no details, beyond warning that "Iranian security forces are vigilant towards all kind of enemiesˈ activities." In April, the very same Esmaili was removed from his previous post as head of Iran's state prisons after dozens of detainees in Evin prison, including at least seven journalists, were severely beaten during a raid.

CPJ is working hard to clarify the confusion over who has been arrested and why. But ultimately the onus falls on Iranian officials to explain. The confusion could be settled right now if those responsible for the arrests would come forward and explain why at least four more people have been ensnared in the spider web of Iran's intelligence and judicial systems. Better yet, they could simply release them.

In the meantime, we hold the entire government in Iran responsible for the well-being of all imprisoned journalists, who have been detained by the dozen ever since the crackdown following Iran's contentious 2009 presidential election. That includes Saba Azarpeik, who has been held in an unknown location for exactly two months today, and Serajeddin Mirdamadi, who was informed Sunday that he was sentenced to six years in prison on anti-state charges, according to news reports.

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