Iran has reinforced its position as one of the world’s most repressive countries in terms of press freedom following a huge wave of protests sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, who had been arrested for allegedly violating strict dress rules for women, say experts.

Dr. Majid Sadeghpour, an Iranian-born human rights activist and the Political Director of the Organization of Iranian American Communities (OIAC), told Al Arabiya English that almost 10 months on from the protests following the death of Amini on September 16, 2022, Iran is now also one of the world’s biggest jailers of journalists.

“Iran has perpetually been ranked as one of the most repressive countries in terms of freedom of press because the regime itself is illegitimate, run by force, and rejected by the overwhelming majority of the Iranian people,” he explained.

He pointed to the 2023 Reporters Without Borders report, which ranks Iran 177 of 180 countries for press freedom.

The report says that, though the repression against freedom of information was already severe, with journalists facing arrests, interrogations, imprisonments, surveillance, harassment, and threats, it became significantly heightened after Amini’s death in police custody.

More than 70 journalists, many of them women, were arrested as the authorities stopped at nothing in their efforts to prevent coverage of the protests.

Even Iranian journalists based abroad were subjected to pressure ranging from online harassment to death threats.

Dr. Sadeghpour said the Iranian regime’s dark record on freedom of the press and treat-ment of journalists in Iran “must be censured by international organizations.”

“The regime must be held to account for its persecution of journalists and reporters in Iran,” he told Al Arabiya English. “Iran’s regime has for decades [detained journalists] and is currently one the biggest jailers of journalists.”

Although Article 24 of Iran’s constitution “presumably ensures press freedom,” journal-ist have for decades been imprisoned, and killed on the charge of endangering the Islamic Republic or for spreading false information, he said.
‘Female journalists a particular target’

When it comes to journalists, females wielding the pen are more harshly judged by the Iranian regime, said Dr. Sadeghpour.

“Just as in any other segment of society, female journalists are particularly targeted. State repressive measures such as imprisonment and interrogation have intensified since September 2022.”

One such example is journalist Maryam Vahidian. In May 2023, Branch 26 of the Revo-lutionary Court of Tehran sentenced Vahidian to four years in prison. She had been pre-viously pursued and imprisoned for “assembly and collusion with intent to disrupt national security.” The verdict has been suspended for five years.

Fellow Iranian journalist Sarvenaz Ahmadi was arrested twice between September and November 2022 as part of a mass crackdown on anti-state protests. On March 12, 2023, Branch 36 of the Revision Court of Tehran Province sentenced Ahmadi to three years and six months in prison for “assembly and collusion to disrupt national security.”

She covered the demonstrations following Amini’s death on Twitter and was first arrest-ed and released shortly after they began, according to the Committee to Project Journal-ists (CPJ), quoting an anonymous source.

In May the trial of female journalist Niloofar Hamedi – who took a photo of Amini’s parents hugging each other in a Tehran hospital where their daughter was lying in a coma – also began.

The image, which Hamedi posted on Twitter, was the first signal to the world that all was not well with Amini, who had been detained three days earlier by Iran’s morality police for what they deemed inappropriate dress.

She faces charges alongside fellow female journalist Elaheh Mohammadi who covered Amini’s funeral in her Kurdish hometown Saqez, where the protests began.

The charges include “colluding with hostile powers” for their coverage of Amini’s death.

Iran’s intelligence ministry in October accused Mohammadi and Hamedi of being CIA foreign agents.

In 2019, The Coalition For Women In Journalism (CFWIJ) reported how Iran had be-come the largest jailer of women journalists in the world. At the time, referring to approximately 1.7 million leaked Iranian justice department documents, the country arrested a total of 860 journalists between 1979 to 2009. The number of women journalists arrested was 218.

CFWIJ said at the time that the leak “exposed Iran’s decades-long record of brutal torture and crackdown of journalists,” adding that the present scenario is not different either, as several women journalists are placed inside the notorious prisons of the Islamic Republic.

As per the Reporters Without Borders report, more than 70 journalists, many of them women, are detained as authorities continue to attempt to stop the ongoing uprising. The whereabouts of many such journalists is unknown, said Dr. Sadeghpour.

Even Iranian journalists based abroad have been subjected to pressure ranging from online harassment to death threats, before and after the 2022 uprising in Iran.

A well-documented case involves Zahra Kazemi, an Iranian-Canadian journalist, who was arrested on June 23, 2003, outside the Evin Prison in Tehran while she was taking pictures from a gathering of the families of Evin prisoners.

Initial reports and testimonies indicated that her death had been caused by harsh beating while in custody and more specifically by blows to her head.

“The Iranian authorities, however, concealed the truth and misled investigations in order to end the controversy surrounding the death in custody of a dual national,” explained Dr. Sadeghpour.

“On July 16, 2003, it was announced that Zahra Kazemi had died of a brain stroke. Later revelations however revealed that Tehran’s Prosecutor, Saeed Mortazavi, had actually killed Zahra Kazemi during his interrogations.”

Other examples include Nada Sabouri, a journalist and reporter who had participated in a protest in March 2014 against the Islamic Revolution Guards’ (IRGC) attack on detainees in Ward 350 of Evin Prison.

She was sentenced to three years and 6 months’ imprisonment on the charge of association and collusion against the regime.

Agents of the intelligence ministry also arrested Tahereh Riyahi, a journalist and social editor for BORNA news agency, in 2016. She was accused of propaganda against the state. In her last call from Evin Prison, she told her family not to wait for her any longer.

Zeinab Rahimi is another example.

Also a female journalist, she had reported on environmental issues for ISNA news agency and was dismissed in April 2020. They accused her of communicating with the enemy, according to the state-run, on April 21, 2020.

Aliyeh Motallebzadeh, head of the Association Defending Freedom of the Press, was transferred to Evin Prison in October 2020. The photographer and women’s rights activist has to serve three years in prison.

“These are just a few examples, of course,” said Dr. Sadeghpour.

Several foreigners, mostly dual nationals, are being held in Iran. Their arrests for a range of reasons have increased since the United States unilaterally left the Iranian nuclear agreement in May 2018.

Dr. Sadeghpour said international efforts have been made to help journalists in detention in Iran but has little hope for progressive change.

“For as long as the Islamic Republic, the epicenter of Islamist fundamentalism is in place, little progress in terms of press and other forms of freedom can be expected.”

“Likewise, the ominous effect from the clerical regime will continue to affect neighboring nations and the Middle East, including violence against women, journalists and secular voices in the region.”

Dr. Sadeghpour said the intensity of persecution of journalists in Iran, particularly of its women journalists as well as the continuation of protests in Iran, point to the “weakness, not strength” of the regime and to a “vibrant resistance matrix inside the Iranian society that seeks to overthrow the clerical regime in Tehran.”

“Western and regional policies which aim to engage the ruling clerics, however, have always failed to understand the fundamental issues at hand: a Mediaeval and expansionist system of governance in Iran which is rejected by the overwhelming majority of the Iranian people,” he said. “As such, engagement of regional and international nations with the regime in Tehran has always failed to address the aggressive nature of the ayatollahs.”

“This includes the regime’s violence towards its own citizens, its terrorism and nuclear weapons development. What these policies, including the recent reported talks with Iran, have [done] and will continue to do is to embolden and empower the regime – to further curtail freedoms inside Iran and commit more terrorist acts abroad.”

Dr. Sadeghpour described the Iranian regime is a “Mediaeval dictatorship which is despised by the Iranian people and incapable of change.”

“Tensions in the region, including the nuclear threat, terrorism, or persecution of journalists will not diminish for as long as the regime in Tehran is in power.”

“To change this paradigm, the international community should stop appeasing the ayatollahs and instead take its cue from the Iranian people who are protesting to overthrow the regime, from the vibrant Iranian resistance which seeks to ensure the latter happens, and from the brave journalists who are fighting to reflect the people’s democratic values.”

Source » alarabiya