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Press freedom: Iranian arrests raise questions over Rouhani’s reform agenda

A clampdown has seen several journalists thrown into jail, reports JANE GREEN

It is the job of journalists to ask difficult questions and, at times, to make politicians feel uncomfortable. Without journalists having such rights, playing the role of the “fourth estate,” no society can truly claim to be open, accountable or democratic.

It is ironic then that in the Islamic Republic of Iran, over a year since the election of “reformist” President Hassan Rouhani, there has been a crackdown on the press. It is ironic because journalists themselves are not able to ask these questions because they are suffering arbitrary arrest and imprisonment.

In their place the questions are being asked by Iranian society and the international human rights community.  

Many of those arrested are charged under the provisions of the Islamic Penal Code. The code loosely defines “crimes” such as “spreading lies,” “spreading propaganda against the system” and “creating unease in the public mind.”  

Such wide-ranging definitions are clearly open to both interpretation and abuse, effectively criminalising many peaceful activities. The authorities are also using protracted prosecutions, unserved prison sentences and denial of medical leave as threats to coerce journalists into self-censorship.  

Those arrested include Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post’s correspondent in Iran and a dual Iranian-American national, along with his wife Yeganeh Salehi, a journalist for the United Arab Emirates newspaper the National. Both were arrested on July 22 in Tehran. The whereabouts of both journalists are still unknown.

Saba Azarpeik, a journalist working for a number of reformist publications in Tehran, was arrested on May 28 and is also being held in an undisclosed location. She was brought before the Revolutionary Court in Tehran on July 21 and 22 to face charges of “spreading propaganda against the system” and “spreading lies” linked to her previous arrest in January 2013.

Hossein Nourani Nejad is facing six years of imprisonment after a revolutionary court in Tehran sentenced him for “spreading propaganda against the system” and “gathering and colluding against national security” in June. He had been arrested on April 21 and taken to solitary confinement in Evin Prison in Tehran.

The recent arrests follow a wave of repression earlier this year, which culminated in international action in May to draw attention to the plight of Iran’s journalists.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has joined its affiliate, the Association of Iranian Journalists (AoIJ), to demand that the government of Iran follows up on its election promises by showing respect for press freedom and releasing all journalists imprisoned in the country.

“Since Rouhani’s election as president one year ago, the IFJ has repeatedly appealed to him and his government to send a strong message about media freedom in Iran by releasing journalists imprisoned in his country and reopening the offices of our affiliate, the Association of Iranian Journalists,” said IFJ president Jim Boumelha.

“There can be no more excuses. The time for action has come and the president must make good on his election promises by lifting the ban on the AoIJ offices and showing respect for the important role of journalists in the future of the Iranian nation.”

Reinforcing the IFJ’s full backing for the AoIJ and journalists in Iran, IFJ general secretary Beth Costa, added: “We call on the Iranian judicial system to uphold its responsibility to respect the basic human rights that are guaranteed by the Iranian constitution and release all journalists being held in Iran.”

The British-based Committee for the Defence of Iranian People’s Rights (Codir) has consistently stood for the rights of journalists in Iran and, alongside other international human rights organisations, will continue to put pressure upon the Iranian government to release journalists and all political prisoners.


n Jane Green is national campaigns officer for Codir, which campaigns for human and democratic rights for Iranian people. Visit or e-mail


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