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.
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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.Skip to next paragraph
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“They thought the people’s protests would last no longer than a week but it’s now been seven months,” said Mahdad, a journalist who wrote for several now-banned newspapers and is currently in exile in an African country. “After the election they realized that everyone is a media, not only journalists.”
Dozens of Iranian journalists in exile languish in Iran’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.
“It doesn’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 country’s interests,” said Hamidreza Jeihani, a researcher in Esfahan University’s Department of Sociology and regime supporter. “But they may not be aware they are acting against their own country.”
Aside from imprisonment, the Islamic Republic employs other ways of pressuring journalists, including domestic exile and temporary or lifetime bans from working.
“If a Greek journalist should go to a Turkic minority area in his own country and write a positive story about them, shouldn’t the Greek government arrest him?” asked Jeihani rhetorically. “In the same way, the Iranian government is moving against fifth-columnists.”
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.
“Let’s hope they’re not thrown out like the last time the Iranian government invited foreign journalists to witness democracy in action,” 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.
“It 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?”