Iran widens journalist crackdown before demonstrations
Iran has stepped up arrests and told Iranian journalists that they'll be dealt with as 'spies' if they work for foreign news outlets, in an apparent attempt to tighten information flows ahead of Green Movement protests scheduled for Thursday.
An IranÂ military official condemned all Iranian journalists working for foreign media as â€śspiesâ€ť and called for them to be â€śdealt with in the harshest way possibleâ€ť in the run-up to expected mass demonstrations on Thursday.
Â Brig. Gen. Masoud Jazayeri said that working with foreign media should be declared a crime, according to the ISNA news agency. He said the foreign press is â€śacting as a control room for a soft coup dâ€™Ă©tat.â€ť
General Jazayeri's comments were the latest in a series of measures taken to stifle dissent and public communications about Iran's political situation as the country turns towards the anniversary of the 1979 revolution on Thursday. Supporters of the opposition Green MovementÂ have promised to be out in force on Thursday. On Wednesday, the Iranian police said a number of protest organizers have been arrested.
â€śIran is No. 1 in the world in jailing journalists by a long shot,â€ť said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, the Middle East and North Africa program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York. â€śThe next highest is China and theyâ€™re in the mid-20s even though they have a population of 1.3 billion.â€ť
Paris-based Reporters Without Borders pegged the number of detained journalists and â€śnetizensâ€ť at 65, â€śa figure that is without precedent since (the organization) was created in 1985,â€ť according to Secretary-General Jean Francois Julliard.
On Sunday, the public relations office of the Ministry of Intelligence announced the arrest of seven journalists described as "elements of a counter-revolutionary Zionist satellite station" and in the "official pay" of US intelligence organizations. They were later identified as working for the US-funded Radio Farda, though the Prague-based organization denies employing anyone inside Iran.
Their arrest marks an increasing intolerance towards foreign media. Unlike the Washington-based Voice of America (VOA) television, the Prague-headquartered Radio Farda was tolerated and would regularly interview Iranian politicians.
â€śThey thought the peopleâ€™s protests would last no longer than a week but itâ€™s now been seven months,â€ť said Mahdad, a journalist who wrote for several now-banned newspapers and is currently in exile in an African country. â€śAfter the election they realized that everyone is a media, not only journalists.â€ť
Dozens of Iranian journalists in exile languish in Iranâ€™s neighboring countries or several European countries. Others have even been forced to search for work in Afghanistan, the only other newsworthy Persian-speaking country in the region.
Working for the BBC and VOA was criminalized on Jan. 5, when the Intelligence Ministry issued a list banning contact with more than 60 Western organizations that included think-tanks, universities, and media outlets.
â€śIt doesnâ€™t mean such journalists are the kind of spies who receive money for selling information to the enemy but they are certainly working against their countryâ€™s interests,â€ť said Hamidreza Jeihani, a researcher in Esfahan Universityâ€™s Department of Sociology and regime supporter. â€śBut they may not be aware they are acting against their own country.â€ť
Aside from imprisonment, the Islamic Republic employs other ways of pressuring journalists, including domestic exile and temporary or lifetime bans from working.
â€śIf a Greek journalist should go to a Turkic minority area in his own country and write a positive story about them, shouldnâ€™t the Greek government arrest him?â€ť asked Jeihani rhetorically. â€śIn the same way, the Iranian government is moving against fifth-columnists.â€ť
The Ministry of Islamic Guidance announced that 300 foreign journalists will cover the anniversary of the Revolution march set for Thursday, 40 of them visiting from abroad.
â€śLetâ€™s hope theyâ€™re not thrown out like the last time the Iranian government invited foreign journalists to witness democracy in action,â€ť said Abdel Dayam, commenting on information that the journalists will be shepherded to and from the regime-orchestrated event and not allowed to cover other areas of the capital where opposition demonstrations may be occurring.
â€śIt invites the inevitable question: What is the Iranian government trying to hide and why are they inviting journalists in if they have something to hide?â€ť