IFJ Condemns Crackdown on Journalists as Iran Hits ”Critical Moment for Reform Process”

The International Federation of Journalists, the world’s largest journalists’ organisation today condemned a new crackdown on press freedom in Iran warning that the country’s reform process will be killed off if attacks on journalists continue.

After a week of anti-government protests, the IFJ says the situation for the press is beginning to spiral out of control. Two journalists were arrested in Tehran, on 14 June, charged with meeting secretly with students in order to support their protest movement. Several news agency journalists have been reportedly detained and beaten by police during the past few days. There is increased jamming of foreign television and radio signals carrying programming in Farsi. The actions come after a devastating period in which journalists have been sentenced to long prison terms.

“This is a critical moment for press freedom and democracy,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “If the attacks on journalists continue, the reform process itself is in danger of being killed off.”

The two journalists arrested are Taghi Rahmani, of the weekly Omid-e-Zangan, and Reza Alijani, editor-in-chief of the monthly Iran-e-Farda. Police officers arrested them at their homes. They carried out a three-hour search at their homes, confiscating computer diskettes, personal papers and photographs.

Rahmani and Alijani were arrested on the orders of the Tehran prosecutor, Said Mortazavi, who also ordered the arrest of a third journalist, Hoda Saber, on the same charge of meeting secretly with students with the aim to support the wave of anti-government protests that began a few days ago at Tehran's main university campus.

A revolutionary court sentenced Rahmani, Alijani and Saber to prison terms of 11, 6 and 10 years, respectively, on 10 May, but they had not yet begun serving their sentences. They and four other journalists were also stripped of their civic rights for 10 years. The 14 June arrest of Rahmani and Alijani was unconnected to these prior convictions.

Alijani was arrested by security police on 24 February 2001 and released on bail on 16 December 2001. Rahmani was released on 16 April 2002. He had been arrested on 11 March 2001 in a raid on a meeting of some 30 people at the home of Mohammad Bastehnaghar, a progressive opposition figure and journalist with Asr-e-Azadegan.

The student news agency ISNA reported that the Supreme Council for National Security prevented journalists from entering the university campus in Tehran on the evening of 12 June, as new demonstrations were being held around the campus.

Several journalists with the ISNA and ILNA news agencies, including ISNA editor Abolfaz Fateh, were beaten. Police detained a number of journalists for several hours and confiscated their cameras, which were not returned to them. Journalists had previously been able to cover the previous demonstrations with little difficulty.

The IFJ also observed with mounting concern, the jailing of seven journalists for up to 11 years. According to reports, on 10 May at the end of a trial behind closed doors the Tehran revolutionary court imposed prison sentences ranging from four to 11 years on seven journalists. The journalists, who were also stripped of their civic rights for 10 years, were members of the National Religious Movement, a liberal, nationalist and Islamic grouping that has been banned since March 2001.

The journalists sentenced were Ezatollah Sahabi (11 years), Hoda Saber (10 years), Reza Alijani (6 years), and Saide Madani (6 years) of the newspaper Iran-é-Farda, Taghi Rahmani of the banned weekly Omid-é-Zangan (11 years), Ali-Reza Redjaï of Asr-é-Azadegan (4 years) and Morteza Khazemian of the closed daily Fath (4 years).

The IFJ called on the Iranian authorities to release all journalists held for exercising their right to freedom of expression and to allow journalists to work without fear and intimidation.

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The IFJ represents more than 500, 000 in more than 100 countries