Iran now world's worst jailer of journalists

Iran has replaced China as the world’s worst jailer of journalists with at least 30 journalists currently imprisoned, according to a Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) report. The organization says no less than 31 media workers have been detained in Iran since the June 12 election; one Iranian journalist was recently sentenced to eight years on prison.
Iran journalists oppressed
Iran replaces China in jailing of media workers, 31 journalists are currently being detained. © Current news.

BEIRUT, July 16, 2009 (MENASSAT) — In a recent report, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) accused the Iranian authorities of coordinating a clampdown on media workers in the public upheavals that followed the presidential elections in Iran in mid-June. The Washington-based press freedom group is urging the Iranian government to release all the journalists that are currently held in custody.

"The Iranian authorities have orchestrated a campaign against journalists of all types since the June 12 presidential elections. Despite some isolated releases, the number of journalists behind bars is at an all time high. The authorities should immediately release all the detained journalists,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Mohamed Abdel Dayem.

The group of imprisoned journalists is comprised of various types of media workers. Prior to the elections, at least six other journalists were in detention. Out of the jailed journalists, sixteen work mainly with print publications, four with online publications, two are TV reporters, and six are freelance reporters. The remaining eight are primarily bloggers, according to CPJ’s statistics.

Among those detained are blogger and women’s rights activist Kaveh Muzaffari, a freelance photographer for Getty Images, Majid Saeedi, and Sumaia Nusrati, a journalist with Tehran Emrouz and Hayat No.

Paris-based press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says the majority of the journalists rounded up were transferred to secret locations and have had difficulty accessing legal aid.

"In most such cases, prisoners are not allowed visitors and their lawyers have no access to their case-files," RSF stated.
Mass-arrests, expulsions, and a jail term

CPJ says that thousands of protesters and scores of journalists have been arrested after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was proclaimed president, a victory that was disputed by the opposition in Iran, including defeated candidate Mir Hussein Mousavi.
Most of the detained media workers reportedly work for local publications and news outlets but foreign reporters have not been exempt from arrests and intimidation.

Maziar Bahari, a dual Canadian-Iranian correspondent for Newsweek has been held without charge since June 21. Freelance reporter Iason Athanasiadis‎, a Greek national, was detained on June 17 at Tehran airport as he was leaving the country. He was, however, released in the beginning of July after Greek authorities intervened in the case.

On July 15, a statement signed by more than 100 well-known journalists from 47 different countries was sent to the Iranian authorities calling for the immediate release of Bahari.

As the post-elections protests and street clashes intensified, Iranian authorities increasingly suggested that foreign media played a role in the unrest. Soon after, Iran began expelling foreign correspondents and media workers experienced difficulties in renewing press visas.

One foreign media outlet that appeared to be particular disturbing to the Iranian authorities was the BBC. On June 21, the BBC’s Teheran correspondent Jon Leyne was given a 24-hour notice to leave the country after being summoned by Iran’s ministry of culture and Islamic guidance.

Reuters said Leyne’s expulsion was due to the "distortion of news regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran and particularly news pertaining to the election."

According to Iran’s Fars News Agency, Leyne had been told to leave the country because he was filing "false news and reports, ignoring impartiality, supporting the insurgents, trampling the rights of the Iranian nation, fanning the unrest and also provoking public opinion".

Leyne's expulsion coincided with the allegations made by the BBC that the Iran was deliberately interfering with its broadcasts of its Persian language TV channel in Iran.

"The satellite operator has traced the interference and has confirmed it is coming from within Iran. This interference is contrary to all international agreements for satellite usage to which Iran is a signatory," the BBC said in a statement.

Among the most recent developments in the media crackdown in Iran is the harsh sentencing of journalist Saeed Matin-Pour‎ to eight years in prison.

Matin-Pour worked as a reporter for Yar Pag and Mouj Bidari newspapers in Iran’s western province of Azaerbaijan and was convicted of having “relations with foreigners and propagating against the regime,” by a revolutionary court in Teheran on Sunday, said CPJ quoting local news reports.
The rights-group condemned Matin-Pour’s sentence, saying it was based on “vague accusations” and urged Iran’s court of appeals to overturn the conviction. 

Sunni “militants” hanged and Bahai "spies" on death-penalty trial

Following the elections, Iran has also stepped up its already high number of executions. On Sunday, thirteen purported members of the Sunni militant group Jundallah (God's Soldiers), accused of carrying out several attacks in south-east Iran, were executed in the country’s Sistan-Baluchestan province.

Teheran holds the rebel group responsible for carrying out the bombing of a mosque in May this year that killed 25 people.

Amnesty International said the group had not received a fair trial and called for a stay of the executions.

Conflicting reports surrounding the executions subsequently surfaced in Iranian media.

Ebrahim Hamidi, head of the judiciary in south-eastern Sistan-Baluchestan province, came out telling Iran’s official Irna news agency on Tuesday that 13 members of Jundallah had been hanged inside a jail in the city of Zahedan.

"After last minute consultations, the executions were carried out in a prison," Hamidi was quoted as saying by the BBC.

Meanwhile, the semi-official Fars news agency, carried reports that the executions would be held in public.

Iran says Jundollah is part of the Al-Qaeda network. The group has previously claimed responsibility for attacks in the Sistan-Baluchestan province, according to  Iranian media.

Commentating on the increase in number of executions in Iran, the BBC’s exiled Iran correspondent Jon Leyne, explained the phenomenon as the Iranian regime possibly “asserting its authority” following the disputed election result.

Another group who risk facing the death-penalty are the seven Baha'i prisoners who are standing trial for spying for Israel, committing religious offenses, and spreading propaganda against the Islamic Republic. If convicted of the charges, the group could face execution.

The trial of the seven Baha'i was scheduled to start last Saturday but was reportedly postponed last minute. It is not known when the trial will resume. The group has been held for over a year without formal charges or access to their lawyer although their attorneys have reportedly been granted access to their files.

The seven are represented by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi and Iranian human rights lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani. But Amnesty International says Soltani was detained in Iran on June 16 and his whereabouts remain unknown until now.

Diane Ala'i, representative to the United Nations for the Baha'i International Community, said the case is religiously motivated and dismissed the allegations against the group as “completely false.”

“This trial is all about them being Baha'i. The accusations are completely false,” Ala'i told CNN.

Rights groups have urged the Iranian authorities to give the group a fair trial. Human Rights Watch said in a statement last month that the detainees should be released or granted a prompt and fair trial.

The Baha'i faith is a world religion that was founded by Baha'ullah in 19th-century Persia and has approximately 300,000 followers in Iran. According to HRW, the Iranian government considers Baha'is to be apostates from Islam. The organization says Baha'is face discrimination in areas of employment and in pursuit of higher education.

Ala'i claims that more than 200 Baha'is have been executed in Iran since the Islamic revolution in 1979.

For detailed lists of detained journalists in Iran see CPJ’s and RSF’s reports.