London, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Iranian Minister of Culture and Guidance has called the recent arrest of 11 journalists “a case in the hands of Security Forces because their charges are definitely not media related.”
Iran arrested 11 journalists accused of cooperation with foreign-based, Persian-language media organizations on Sunday. The detained journalists—nine men and five women—were reportedly identified by their editors. They are from seven different news organizations, including five daily newspapers, one weekly newspaper, and the semi-official IRNA news agency.
The chief editors of the arrested journalists spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity, revealing that the 11 journalists were taken into custody on Sunday evening due to their “foreign contacts”. The editors refused to say if the detained journalists had been accused of providing material specifically to BBC or VOA.
For its part, the Fars News Agency reported that unofficial statements hint at charges connected with “links to foreign media”, specifically citing the BBC. While Iran’s Mehr news agency said that the arrests were linked to charges of collaboration with “anti-revolutionary, Persian-speaking media.”
Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat, Journalists Farahmand Alipour, who himself has been arrested by the Iranian authorities on two separate occasions, described the arrests as “an unprecedented act by the government that shows the level of their concern.”
Alipour stressed that the political environment in Iran is comparably open during presidential elections “as a political gesture pretending Iran enjoys much more competitive and freer political atmosphere than other countries in the Middle East.”
He added, “The reformists were hoping that such so-called democratic gesture could be used to release political prisoners or at least switch the political environment back to what it was 4 years ago.
However Alipour, who previously served as special correspondent to former presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi, related that, “It seems that the government is seeking different goals this year. Sanctions and the economic dissatisfaction, political isolation, parallel to President Ahmadinejad’s stubborn attitude made the security organizations performs a drill and suppress the reformist once again.”
He added, “This is an unprecedented act by the government that shows the level of their concern. However, I, personally, don’t believe that all the conservative groups approve such arrests.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called on Iranian authorities to immediately release all journalists in custody and halt their practice of imprisoning critical journalists. CPJ also claimed that the latest arrests “are consistent with attacks against reformist news outlets in 2009 that weakened what was once a vibrant media in the country.”
While Amnesty International urged Iran to release all journalists being held solely for carrying out their legitimate work. Ann Harrison, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Program, said, “This latest example of locking-up Iran’s journalists is a result of draconian restrictions on reporting which violate the right to freedom of expression and must be relaxed.”
She said, “All journalists who are imprisoned in Iran merely for peacefully doing their job should be released immediately and unconditionally.”