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The Plight of Iranian Journalists

by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles

11 Nov 2009 23:30Comments
2_8708281794_L600.jpg[ feature ] Except for a brief period in the beginning of President Mohammad Khatami's first term (1998-2000); and earlier, between 1941, when Allied forces occupied Iran, and 1953, the year the CIA-led a coup against the popular government of Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh, freedom of the press in Iran has been under constant assault over the past century. Hundreds of Iranian journalists have been jailed or driven into exile. Many have been murdered. In short, Iran has become one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a journalist.

Iranian officials have always claimed that there is complete freedom of expression in Iran. Many Iranians may agree with that assessment. The real problem is that there is almost never any freedom after expression. Almost any public expression of opinion in a large gathering has been immediately followed by harsh government retribution. This has been true for at least 120 years.

After Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president in June 2005, Hossein Saffar Harandi, a Brigadier General in the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), was appointed Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance, the official organ that supervises and monitors the press and book publication. "Every official political group and party will be allowed to have its own publication and mouthpiece," Saffar Harandi pronounced at the time.

aks-3-saffar-harandi.jpgBut it quickly became clear that what Saffar Harandi had in mind was a privilege reserved for Ahmadinejad allies. Even Hamshahri, the daily published by Tehran's city council, was assaulted by Saffar Harandi's Ministry, because it was acting as the mouthpiece of Ahmadinejad's competitor, Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf. Ironically, Qalibaf, a Principlist, was the former commander of the IRGC air force.

After the rigged June 12 presidential election, as widespread demonstrations and protests gripped the country, many leading reformist journalists and bloggers were arrested and imprisoned. The pace of arrests has not slowed down. While some journalists have been released, many more remain incarcerated, and others handed long prison sentences. Some journalists who are also recognized as political figures have been treated harshly. Long stretches in solitary confinement has been a common feature of these incarcerations.

Last month Reporters Without Borders (RWB), the international press watchdog group, released its latest Press Freedom Index (PFI), a ranking of countries in terms of the degree of freedom that their journalists enjoy. Although Iran's ranking has never been high, it fell precipitously in the wake of the demonstrations that broke out this summer. The demonstrations gave rise to what RWB called "regime paranoia about journalists and bloggers." But, in fact, that paranoia has always existed in Iran.

RWB's bottom ten consists of Vietnam, Yemen, China, Laos, Cuba, Burma, Iran, Turkmenistan, North Korea, and Eritrea. Iran, a virtual military junta led by the IRGC, is in "distinguished" company: Burma, a country also run by a military junta; Turkmenistan, a nation under the spell of a cult of personality; and North Korea, a country in the clutches of a reclusive "Dear Leader."

So many reformist newspapers and publications have been closed after the rigged election that Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, the distinguished reformist journalist, estimates that at least 2000 people have lost their jobs over the last four months alone. He has said that 400 journalists have asked him for a letter of recommendation, hoping to find jobs abroad. At least 30 journalists have been forced to leave Iran, including Nazila Fathi, a contract writer in Tehran for the New York Times.

The following is a list of those whose arrest and imprisonment have been confirmed, together with a brief background, if available. Some may have been released, which is noted if the information was available. The list may not be exhaustive. This list contains the names of 81 journalists, but the RWB has said that 100 journalists have been arrested in Iran over the past 150 days.

Marjan Abdollahian was on the staff of the moderate conservative Hamshahri newspaper, published by Tehran's city council; arrested July 9.

Mohammad Ali Abtahi Chief of Staff, and then Vice President to Mohammad Khatami for parliamentary affairs; a principal advisor to Mehdi Karroubi (the other reformist candidate) in the rigged June presidential election; popular reformist and one of the first clerics to launch a blog, Webnevesht; a leading member of the Association of Combatant Clerics, the reformist leftist clerical organization that supports Mir Hossein Mousavi.

Bahman Ahmadi Amouei journalist and husband of Zhila Bani Yaghoub.

Reza Alijani winner of RWB's 2001 Fondation de France press freedom prize; close to the Nationalist-Religious Coalition, has been jailed numerous times; arrested June 13 (later released).

Morteza Alviri leading advisor to Mehdi Karroubi; contributor to many reformist newspapers, particularly to the daily Hamshahri, when he was Tehran's Mayor (released recently).

Mahsa Amrabadi reporter for the Etemaad-e Melli (National Trust) daily, the mouthpiece of the National Trust Party of Mehdi Karroubi; arrested June 14 and kept in solidarity confinement while pregnant (released recently).

Karim Arghandehpour journalist writing for reformist newspapers Salaam, and, Vaghaa-ye Ettefaaghiyeh, both of which were shut down by the hard-liners. He ran a blog, www.futurama.ir.

Hassan Asadi Zaydabadi blogger, and director of the human rights committee of the Organization of University Graduates of Islamic Iran (known in Iran as Advaar-e Tahkim); a supporter of Karroubi.

Mohammad Atrianfar deputy Interior Minister in the first Khatami administration; member of the Central Committee of the Executives of Reconstruction Party (ERP), a reformist party; editor-in-chief of the popular daily Hamshahri during the second Khatami administration; manager of Shargh, a popular daily reformist newspaper shut down by the hardliners.

Shokoufeh Azar reformist journalist.

Zhila Bani Yaghoub prominent female journalist, working previously for many reformist newspapers; editor of the website Kannon-e Zanaan-e Irani (Center for Iranian Women); writing at http://irwomen.net; winner of numerous awards (released).

Behzad Basho cartoonist, arrested June 14.

Masoud Bastani journalist and husband of Mahsa Amrabadi. On 5 July when he asked authorities about the fate of his pregnant wife, he was also arrested. After his show trial, he was handed a sentence of several years in jail.

Misagh Bolhasani a poet publishing her work in dailies and other publications.

Mohammad Davari Editor of Soham News, the official website of Karroubi's National Trust Party; arrested August 12.

Alireza Eftekhari journalist working for Abrar, an economic daily; died from injuries sustained on 15 June at the hands of security forces.

Satiar Emami Photojournalist.

Mostafa Ghavanlou Qajar blogs at www.shajar.ir and contributor to the U.S.-funded Radio Farda.

Rahim Gholami a journalist who writes for several local newspapers in the northwestern city of Ardabil, was arrested on Oct. 29. In March 2006, a revolutionary court in Ardabil sentenced him to a year in prison on a charge of "anti-government publicity."

Saeed Hajjarian leading reformist strategist; advisor to Mohammad Khatami during his presidency; editor-in-chief of Sobh-e Emrooz (this morning), a leading reformist newspaper shut down by the hardliners; member of the Central Committee of the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Front, Iran's largest political party; deputy Minister of Intelligence for counter-intelligence (1984-89); semi-paralyzed by an assassination attempt on his life in March 2000; recently released after receiving a suspended five-year sentence following a televised show trial.

Mir-Hamid Hassanzadeh formerly with ISNA, the Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA) and director of Ghalam News website, close to Mir-Hossein Mousavi; arrested August 5.

Hadi Haydari cartoonist and member of the public relations department of the Islamic Iran Participation Front. (released)

Mashallah Haydarzadeh a journalist active in southern Iran; arrested June 14.

Arash Hejazi writer and publisher (tried and sentenced to several months in jail).

Alireza Hosseini Beheshti Editor-in-Chief of Kalameh Sabz (green word), the daily mouthpiece of Mir Hossein Mousavi. The daily was closed after the rigged election (since released).

Kouroush Javan photojournalist.

Hamzeh Karami reformist journalist.

Ako Kurdnasab of Karfto (a weekly closed by the authorities last year), who was detained on 12 November after taking part in a demonstration against a young political prisoner's execution in Sanandaj, the capital of the Iranian province of Kurdistan. It is not known where he is being held and his family has received no word of him since his arrest.

Mohammad Reza Khatami younger brother of the former president; a medical doctor (nephrologist); former deputy Health Minister for two years; one of the founders of the Islamic Iran Participation Front in 1998, its first Secretary-General, and currently a member of its central committee; a faculty member at Tehran University of Medical Sciences; elected in March 2000 to the 6th Majles as the first Tehran deputy with 1,794,365 votes; managing editor of the now-banned reformist daily Mosharekat [participation], the mouthpiece of the IIPF; married to Zahra Eshraghi, granddaughter of Ayatollah Khomeini and an activist in women's rights (released later).

Mehdi Khazali publisher of Hayyan; son of prominent conservative cleric, Ayatollah Abolghasem Khazali.

Ebrahim Khoshchehreh journalist close to the Nationalist-Religious Coalition, active in Lahijan (in northern Iran); arrested June 21.

Maziar Khosrawi reformist journalist and editor of pro-reform website Hammihan.

Saeed Leylaaz Economic advisor to the Khatami administration; journalist; strong critic of Ahmadinejad's economic policies.

Hassan Maadikhah
director of the Zarreh Publication and son of Abdol-Majid Maadikhah, the former Minister of Cultural and Islamic Guidance.

Hamideh Mahhozi a reformist journalist active in southern Iran.

Hassan-Ali Mahdavi Cheshmeh Gachi managing editor of the daily Gharb [west], published in Kermanshah, in western Iran.

Mehdi MahmoudianReformist journalist and human rights advocate; arrested September 16.

Javad Mahzadeh reformist journalist.

Rajabali Mazrouiee
head of the Journalists Association; reformist Majles (parliament) deputy in the 6th Majles (2000-2004); economic editor of Salaam (1991-1999), the popular reformist daily that was closed by the hardliners in 1999; arrested on 20 June (released later).

Seyyed Khalil Mir Ashrafi
a television producer and journalist, arrested June 14.

Mohsen Mirdamadi Secretary-General of the Islamic Iran Participation Front; chairman of the 6th Majles Committee on National Security; one of the three principal leaders of US Embassy takeover in 1979; editor of Norooz, the mouthpiece of IIPF, which was closed by the hardliners; arrested June 14.

Saeed Movahedi
freelance photojournalist; arrested July 9.

Mohammad Hossein Naeimipour
blogged at www.mowj.ir; leader of Pouyesh-e Sabz (Green Wave), a youth organization supporting Mohammad Khatami and Mir Hossein Mousavi; son of Mohammad Naeimipour, the prominent reformist journalist.

Mazdak Ali Nazari reformist journalist and editor of the website "Journalism for Peace." Mazdak managed to telephone his family from a place of detention on Nov. 14 to tell them he had been arrested. However, he was not able to give the date of his arrest or say where he was being held. Nazari, who lives on his own in Tehran, had been missing for several days when he phoned.

Shiva Nazari Ahari blogged at http://azadiezan.blogspot.com; member of the Reporters of Human Rights Committee; arrested June 13.

Behanam Nikzad journalist arrested on November 4.

Kambiz Norouzi Secretary of the Legal Committee of the Iranian Journalists Association.

Somayyeh Nosrati journalist and blogger; arrested October 14.

Mohammad Reza Nourabakhsh
editor of the daily Farhikhtegan (the intellectual elites); recently closed by the hardliners.

Hossein Nouraninejad runs the blog, haboot-e natamam; director of Mir Hossein Mousavi's campaign in western Tehran; a leading member of the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Front.

Fariba Pajooh journalist covering national politics and foreign policy for major Iranian news agencies and newspapers since 1999, including dailies such as Shargh, Etemad Melli, Ham Mihan (all closed by the hardliners), Iran, Aftab Yazd, and Seda-ye Edalat; Shahr news agency, the Iranian Labor News Agency, the Iranian Student News Agency; and Gozaresh, a monthly magazine.

Ali Pirhosseinlou blogger for Norooz, the website of the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Front; arrested together with his wife (released after 50 days in jail).

Farhad Pouladi journalist working for AFP; arrested November 4 (reportedly released).

Mojtaba Pourmohsen editor of Gilaan-e Emrooz (Today's Gilaan); Gilaan is a province in northern Iran by the Caspian Sea; contributor to Radio Zamaneh (a Persian radio station based in the Netherlands) from Rasht (Gilaan's provincial capital); arrested June 15.

Mohammad Qoochani
prominent reformist journalist, editor of many reformist newspapers shut down by the hardliners (e.g., Shargh [east]; Hammihan [compatriot], and the weekly, Shahrvand Emrooz [today's citizen]); editor of Etemaad-e Melli; son-in-law of Emad Baghi, the prominent journalist and human rights advocate (released recently).

Taghi Rahmani
close to the Nationalist-Religious Coalitions; has spent 14 years in jail over the past 30 years; husband of Narges Mohammadi, a prominent human rights advocate; arrested June 13 (and later released).

Hoda Saber
close to the Nationalist-Religious Coalition; jailed numerous times; arrested June 13 (released later).

Shadi Sadr
journalist and human rights advocate (released later).

Eisa Saharkhiz an outspoken journalist critic of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei; contributor to www.roozonline.com; in charge of the domestic press during the first two years of Khatami's presidency, a period when the Iranian press blossomed; arrested July 5.

Majid Saidi Photojournalist

Kayvan Samimi Behbahani
Managing editor of Naameh (Letter), a monthly publication, close to the Nationalist-Religious Coalition. Naameh was also closed.

Negar Sayeh journalist

Hengameh Shahidi journalist for Etemaad-e Melli and advisor to Karroubi; went on a hunger strike in jail (released recently; currently on trial).

Ruhollah Shahsavar
a journalist in Mashhad (in northeastern Iran); arrested June 17.

Saeed Shariti the editor of the news website Nooroz, the official site of the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Front, the largest political party in Iran.

Mehdi Shirzad blogger; son of Dr. Ahmad Shirzad, a leading member of Islamic Iran Participation Front, and a critic of Ahmadinejad's nuclear policy. (released)

Amanollah Shojaei a blogger living in Bushehr, in southern Iran; arrested June 14.

Hossein Shokouhi reporter and journalist writing for Payaam-e Jonoob (the Message of the South), in southern Iran.

Fariborz Soroush freelance journalist who worked for US-funded Radio Farda; imprisoned in the past for his work for Radio Farda; arrested in Karaj, a town 40 km west of Tehran.

Abdolreza Tajik political activist, economist, and close to the Freedom Movement of Iran and the Nationalist-Religious Coalition; has worked for many reformist newspapers, including Bahar (closed in 2001), Hambastegi (closed in 2003) and Shargh (closed in 2008); arrested June 14 at the headquarters of the daily Farhikhtegan (the intellectual elites). (released)

Mostafa Tajzadeh Deupty Interior Minister in the first Khatami administration; supervised elections for the first city councils and the 6th Majles, praised for its even-handedness and transparency; member of the Central Committees of both the Islamic Iran Participation Front and the Islamic Revolution Mojahedin Organization; outspoken critic of the hardliners; contributor to many reformist newspapers and websites; arrested June 14.

Mojtaba Tehrani
Journalist at Etemaad-e Melli daily, arrested 29 June.

Somayyeh Tohidloo
blogger at http://smto.ir ; political activist; sociologist; supporter of Mir Hossein Mousavi.

Mehdi Yazdani Khorram an editor at Etemaad-e Melli, arrested 5 August.

Mohammad Reza Yazdanpanah
journalist and blogger, arrested 7 July.

Mehdi Zaboli is a photographer.

Fayyaz Zahed reformist journalist who worked for several reformist publications.

Ali Zare is photojournalist for the daily Hamshahri.

Nafiseh Zare Kohan
is a blogger who worked for many reformist newspapers; arrested 4 November together with her husband Hojjat Sharifi.

Ahmad Zaydabadi distinguished journalist writing for roozonline.com and print media in Iran; Secretary General of the Organization of University Graduates of Islamic Iran (known in Iran as Advaar-e Tahkim); a supporter of Karroubi and close to the Nationalist-Religious Coalition. According to his wife Mahdiyeh Mohammadi, he has been kept in solitary confinement for so long that at one point he came close to committing suicide. He is said to be under incredible pressure to apologize to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for writing an open letter criticizing the Supreme Leader.

In addition, Maziar Bahari, the Iranian-Canadian journalist and a correspondent for Newsweek in Iran, was arrested on 22 June. He was released on bail on October 17 and was allowed to leave Iran.

Foreign journalists have also not escaped the wrath of the hardliners. 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. Jon Leyne of the BBC was also expelled. A Danish journalism student, Niels Krogsgaard, 31, has been the latest foreigner targeted. He was reported missing on Wednesday, 4 November after attending a rally making the 30th anniversary of the US Embassy takeover.

vezart-ershad.jpgThe new Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance is Seyyed Ahmad Hossein, who was the president of Payam-e Nour (message of light) University. The ultra-conservative's deputy in charge of the press is Mohammad Ali Ramin, a reactionary who lived in Germany, where he may have been associated with Neo-Nazis. Ramin was behind Ahmadinejad's denial of the Holocaust, and secretary-general of the 2006 Holocaust conference in Tehran.

In his first act as the Deputy Minister, Ramin ordered closure of Sarmayeh (capital), a daily close to the reformists.

It's not clear what crime these journalists have committed other than showing support for candidates who were carefully vetted by the conservative Guardian Council. Others were defending the human and political rights of Iranians and deserve the support of all those who care about human dignity and freedom.

Shuttering newspapers and jailing journalists who have been reporting and analyzing the events of the past few months, even when critical of the government, is in the national interest of the Islamic Republic (especially if it continues to claim any part of that name). When people are unable to get accurate information and objective analysis from informed sources inside the country, they turn to foreign outlets whose understanding of Iran is far less. Some may even try to spin information to advance the interests of foreign powers. If Iran were a bit more sophisticated about its security interests, it should be clear by now that it's on the wrong path.

Copyright © 2009 Tehran Bureau

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