It has been 38 years since the toppling of the Shah and the coming to power of the Islamic Revolution in February 1979. One of the demands of the revolution was media freedom.
But looking back, once can see that Iran has become one of the most dangerous countries for media personnel with systematic arrests and executions of countless journalists across the years.
According to the latest report by Reporters Without Borders, “Iran is now one of the world’s biggest prisons for media personnel, with a total of 29 journalists and citizen-journalists detained.”
It has been a relentless campaign against journalists, with the methods to silence them getting more elaborate.
During the first decade of the Islamic Revolution, the targets were those who had backed the Shah’s regime, marked by the executions of Ali Asgar Amirani, Simon Farzami and Nasrollah Arman. Left-wing journalists Said Soltanpour and Rahman Hatefi-Monfared were also soon eliminated.
Then followed the period of extra-judicial executions. In 1998, there were a number of murders, one of them being that of Journalist and editor Ebtekar Ebrahim Zalzadeh, whose body bore 15 stab wounds.
There were other methods used too. “Potassium was used to murder Majid Charif, a journalist with the magazine Iran-e-Farda. Journalists and writers Mohammad Mokhtari and Mohamad Jafar Pouyandeh were strangled to death. No one ever found the body of Pirouz Pirouz Davani, a newspaper editor who had been abducted in 1997,” says the Reporters Without Borders report.
The revolution has adopted a different strategy During the past 15 years, there is a different strategy at work, one which is under the radar but no less effective in “throttling freedom of information”. This is by7 holding journalists for years together in prison. They are then tortured, mistreated and denied medical care, ultimately letting them die slowly.
According to the Reporters Without Borders report blogger Sattar Beheshti was “tortured to death at the headquarters of the FTA (Iran’s cyber-police) in 2012 for daring to criticize the regime on Facebook.”
“The photojournalist Zahra Kazemi and the young blogger Omidreza Mirsayafi also died as a result of being mistreated while in detention. Detained journalists have often put their lives at risk by going on hunger strike in protest again prison conditions or the deaths of fellow journalists in detention. They include Hoda Saber, an Iran-e-Farda writer who died in detention in 2011.”
The year, in the run-up to the revolution’s anniversary there has been no relief for journalists. On the other hand, the persecution has certainly been stepped up because of the presidential election that will be held in May.
The past two months have seen a series of arbitrary arrests followed by procedures that deny journalists the right to due process. They have no basis in Iranian law and constitute a flagrant violation of the Universal Declaration of Human rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well.
The blogger Baran Mehdi Khazali, the blogger, was held for the eighth time since 2009 on February 5, after criticizing the regime in interviews for Voice of America and DorTV. He had also questioned the official reason for former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s death and had suggested “he might have been murdered by drowning”. Khazali was given a 14-year jail sentence in 2011 and been spending time in Tehran’s Evin prison.
Zeniab Karimian, a woman journalist and a TV program host, and Saleh Deldam, a young filmmaker, were arrested from home on January 23 by. Since then, their families have been told nothing.
Borna News social affairs editor Tahereh Riahi was arrested at her workplace on December 27 and was placed in solitary confinement in Section 209 of Evin prison. According to the information obtained by RSF, “she is now in very poor physical and psychological health”.
Besides prison, another method used to silence journalists is by flogging, often used during the past 10 years.
The various penalties available to judges include flogging in addition to stoning, torture and death. Under articles 609 and 698, criticizing government officials or publishing false news is punishable by 74 lashes.
Five journalists were sentenced to be flogged from 2000 to 2005. And since 2009 (and the protests against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s controversial reelection in June of that year), no fewer than 40 journalists and citizen-journalists have been sentenced to a total of 2,000 lashes.
The tendency to use this cruel and humiliating punishment has increased of late. In 2016, journalist and documentary filmmaker Kaivan Karimi was sentenced to 223 lashes, the journalist Mohammad Reza Fathi was sentenced to 459 lashes and Shahrood News website editor Mostafa Sharif was sentenced to 40 lashes.
Gilan Novin and Gilan Noo news website editors Mostafa Brari and Arash Shoa Shargh were sentenced at the end of last month to 114 lashes and 40 lashes respectively. In their case, the sentences have yet to be carried out. But Najafabad News website journalist Hossein Movahedi was administered 40 lashes on 4 January 4 – his sentence for allegedly publishing false information.