Iran’s fight for press freedom

Feb 26, 20100 comments

More than 100 journalists and bloggers have been imprisoned in Iran since the disputed election last June, making it the world’s leading enemy of free expression. At least 65 remain in jail – more than any single country has imprisoned since 1996. Two of those imprisoned, Mehrdad Rahimi and Kohyar Goodarzi, have been labelled “mohareb” (enemies of God) – a heresy charge punishable by death under the Iranian law. One other journalist is on death row. Recently, the world’s leading international journalists’ and other human rights organisations announced a mega-campaign for the release of Iran’s imprisoned journalists, running through Norooz, the Iranian new year, with events aimed at building pressure on the regime. The campaign is called Our Society Will Be a Free Society, a reference to Ayatollah Khomeini’s 30-year-old pledge that Iran would have freedom of expression. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the International Press InstituteReporters Sans FrontièresIndex on Censorship and the International Federation of Journalists are among the organisations involved. But despite all concerns by the international community, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government seems indifferent. It has shown the same attitude towards the UN’s recent review of Iran’s human rights record. In fact, Iran’s suppression of journalists has accelerated since the anniversary of the Iranian Revolution on February 11. Last week, Masoud Jazayeri, a commander of the Revolutionary Corps, said that those Iranians who work for foreign media should be sentenced as spies. Few days ago, Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam, the commander of the police, said that “anyone who collaborates with foreign media either by sending pictures or articles to them is monitored and will be dealt with as soon as possible”. At the beginning of this month, CPJ conducted a new survey of the situation of journalists in Iran. This confirmed that the authorities are continuing their aggressive attitude towards independent and opposition journalists. CPJ’s survey also found that 26 journalists have been jailed in the last two months. At least 10 more journalists have been jailed since CPJ published its survey on February 1. The survey also found that the authorities in Iran have filed vague anti-state charges against detained journalists. “Propagation against the regime”, insulting authorities and disrupting public order are among the ambiguous charges but many cases are shrouded in secrecy, without even formal charges being disclosed. Some detainees have been sentenced to years of prison, lashes and internal exile – as well as lifetime bans on writing and other social and political activities. The Association of Iranian Journalists (AoIJ), which for years was the only independent press organisation in Iran, was closed down last August. Now three members of the AoIJ’s board, Mofidi Badrossadat, Shamsolvaezin Mashaallah and Mohamad Reza Moghise are in jail. Since Ahmadinejad took office as president in 2005 he has not let any officials from the UN Human Rights Council go inside Iran and investigate its freedom of expression. Under Ahmadinejad, the government has closed down tens of publications, has put scores of journalists in jail and, since the last election, it has shut down seven newspapers. Last March, Omid Mir Sayafi, an Iranian blogger committed suicide in the notorious Evin prison in Tehran when he was sentenced to 30 months for insulting Iran’s supreme leader in his blog. The Our Society Will Be a Free Society campaign is a good way to draw international attention to the issue but it’s not enough. The Tehran regime is currently in no mood for concessions, though a group of Iranian MPs have also called for the release of the imprisoned journalists, which is a good sign. What the situation probably needs, though, is for political leaders in Europe and the rest of the world to put new pressures on the Iranian government. Source: