The comments by the Iranian Intelligence minister on the recent arrests of a dozen journalists amount to a direct threat to independence of media, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today said.
In a statement released through the Farsi News Agency, minister Heidar Moslehi claimed that the journalists were arrested because of their contacts with staff at the BBC's Persian service in London and warned that more arrests are expected. The statement prompted the IFJ to organise a visit to Turkey last week to discuss plans for providing assistance to journalists who are likely to seek safety outside Iran.
"These chilling declarations are an ominous sign that the situation of journalists in Iran is likely to worsen in the run up to the June election and more will be fleeing," said Jim Boumelha, IFJ President. "The IFJ is working to prepare the ground so that there is a structure in Turkey to host them and advise them on their rights and help them sort out their status and settlement."
The IFJ delegation to Turkey met with Karim Atassi, Deputy Representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), to discuss the current difficulties faced by the exiled journalists with regard to the time taken to interview and register them. IFJ leaders made representation concerning some special cases and impressed on UNCHR officials the need to simplify procedures and facilitate the settlement of these journalists in third countries.
The delegation also reviewed with its member unions in Turkey the role they have been playing to facilitate humanitarian help, deal with individual cases and make representation to Turkish authorities to improve the situation of these journalists.
The visit took place after the arrests of at least sixteen journalists, including six women, who are being held by Iran's security forces in ‘temporary detention', without charges.
Media reports said that the Iranian authorities targeted journalists and bloggers reportedly to intimidate media ahead of the parliamentary elections to be held in March. Those arrested include Parastoo Dokouhaki, Marzieh Rasouli, Sahamoddin Bouraghani, Fatemeh Kheradmand, Ehsan Houshmandzadeh and Said Madani.
The arrests were made in a series of raids on the journalists' homes where their laptops were seized. Although the detained journalists are not considered politically active or covering sensitive issues, the statement from the Intelligence Ministry has confirmed that the authorities are concerned by the reporters' contacts abroad.
The Iranian regime launched the last major crackdown on media in 2011 in an attempt to thwart the reporting on the unrest spreading across the Arab world.
The IFJ says the recent arrests fit the familiar pattern of media manipulation in Iran where the authorities resort to bullying journalists at home while seeking to silence their colleagues who are outside the regime's reach by attacking their families and friends in the country.
"These are shameless practices of the dark ages to which our colleagues are being subjected to," added Beth Costa, IFJ General Secretary. "They paint the functioning of a government which has forfeited the rule by its people's consent and is bent on suppressing any criticism; however genuine and deserved."
For more information, please contact IFJ on + 32 2 235 22 07
The IFJ represents more than 600.000 journalists in 134 countries