Outrage grows over Iranian regime’s arrest of journalists

More than 200 journalists slam arrests

More than 200 Iranian journalists have voiced their outrage at the government’s clampdown on members of the press in recent days.

In a statement, the journalists said the security forces’ rounding upof journalists working for pro-reform publications was “politically motivated”.

“We … request that the authorities demonstrate their respect for the law and release our colleagues immediately,” they said.

The statement came days after some fourteen journalists from a number of reformist newspapers and the semi-official Ilna news agency were arrested.

On Thursday, opposition site Kaleme reported that another journalist, Reyhaneh Tabatabaei, had also been arrested by the Intelligence Ministry.

Tabatabaei, who had been working with the reformist Bahar newspaper, was also arrested in December 2010 and held in solitary confinement for 36 days. She was later sentenced to a year in prison for promoting the opposition Green Movement.

During a press conference on 21 January, Iran’s prosecutor general, Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei said that based on “reliable sources,” a number of journalists had been collaborating with the country’s enemies.

On wednesday, the Intelligence Ministry released a statement saying that more journalists could be arrested or summoned and that the detained journalists had formed a “one of the biggest media networks” with ties to Western governments and media outlets.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said she was “concerned” by the recent wave of arrests of journalists and news editors in the country.

“Such actions would constitute acts of politically motivated intimidation, particularly worrying in light of the approaching Presidential elections in Iran,” Ashton said in a statement on Thursday. She also called on Iranian authorities “to thoroughly investigate these cases and clarify the charges that have been brought against the journalists.”

The arrests have also drawn the “strong protest” of media-watchdog Reporters Without Borders. “The constant persecution of journalists keeps on intensifying by the day,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “Iran has not yet emerged from the era of terror launched after the disputed June 2009 presidential election and now, five months before the next election in June 2013, a clear warning is being given – journalists and news media will be gagged.”

The organisation called for the immediate and unconditional release of all journalists currently behind bars in Iran and maintained that the sole aim of of the detentions was ensuring the regime’s stability and survival.

The Committee to Protect Journalists also condemned the arrests, saying it was an attempt “to pre-emptively silence independent news coverage ahead of the presidential election in June.” Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator called on the authorities to stop targeting journalists and release all those detained immediately.

The group had previously ranked Iran as the world’s second-worst jailer of journalists, with 45 behind bars in 2012.

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