Omid Habibinia
Last updated: 6 March, 2013

Iranian journalists: enemies of the state or James Bond fantasy?

When Hojatoleslam Heidar Moslehi announced that the Iranian intelligence ministry has attacked 600 journalists inside the country and around the world, many journalists had a hard time taking him seriously.

Since last month, Iranian journalists has experienced a new wave of suppression; at least 20 have been arrested, some who had open files in the courts, like Hengameh Shahidi were called to be present there, while others escaped the country, like Masoud Lavasani.

While Moslehi claimed they attack a network of Iranian journalists who act against the Islamic Republic, the actual number of journalists in reformist media, which are always in danger of arrest, threats and losing their jobs, is no more than 200. In his words, almost all of them are busy spying or performing secret missions against the Islamic Republic. Moslehi said that about 400 Iranian journalists left the country in recent years, claiming that all of them work for the CIA or MI6.

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In fact, those who understand intelligence ministry propaganda know very well the level of stupidity and lies, but I didn’t expected that they would officially announce that the majority of Iranian journalists are acting against them in collaboration with foreign secret services. This is all more absurd then George Orwell’s 1984 novel or Terry Gilliam’s Brazil movie!

Now, more than 40 journalists and media activists are in jail, including Shiva Nazar Ahari, who is candidate for the Netizen of the year award.

People like Bahman Ahmadi Amouee and Jila Baniyaghoob, a journalist couple, did absolutely nothing secretly nor acted in a way that can be considered as evidence of security concern. They did their job as journalists, but were treated like criminals in the worst jail conditions.

Last month about 50 journalists wrote an open letter to international institutions, emphasizing the recent detained journalists and those who have been arrested after the last presidential election; “If being a journalist is a crime, we are all accomplices to that crime,” the letter stated.

As Iran approaches another presidential election show, increasing pressure is put on Iranian journalists not only inside the country but also abroad. Many of them, especially those working for BBC Persian, Radio Farda, VOA Persian, are threatened or see their families taken hostage by security forces.

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Some even experienced Skype interrogation by force, like when a few months ago a BBC Persian journalist in London was interrogated and threated by the security forces, who forced her sister in Tehran to log in and talk to her.

Ahmad Shaheed’s latest report on Iran’s human rights situation shows that freedom of expression is deteriorating. Journalists are the main targets of the accusations from the government, reflecting the traditional opinion of the Islamic Republic’s leaders towards the media as ‘the enemy of regime.’

A few recently arrested journalists including Saba Azarpeik, Nasrin Takhairoy and Sasan Aghai were in jail, but eventually freed with heavy bails. There is still fear about increasing government pressure on them, or forcing them to confess lies, which happens to journalists who have been arrested. State media broadcast some and keep others for times in need, however there are journalists who don’t accept to cooperate in such dirty scenarios.

As I can remember this is the first time in the history of the past two Iranian regimes – both have considered journalists as enemies – where an intelligence ministry officially announces that they attack such a huge population of journalists.

It demonstrates a real fear for a free press on part of the regime and even gives more credits to journalists who already have lots of popularity among the Iranian people.

At the time of writing, security forces attack the Maghreb Newspaper, and keep journalists in the newsroom. At least two journalists from Maghreb have been arrested, and two other magazines were banned by the judiciary on Wednesday morning.

Omid Habibinia is an Iranian journalist and media researcher, and the co-founder of the International Association of Independent Iranian Journalists. The views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of Your Middle East.

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