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News and information fall victim to electoral coup

(RSF/IFEX) - The Iranian authorities are continuing a crackdown on journalists and information that began after the announcement of the disputed presidential election results. Journalists are still being arrested and more censorship measures have been adopted as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's allies try to suppress media coverage of fraud allegations.

"Independent sources of news and information find it very hard to make their voice heard now in Iran because of the censorship," Reporters Without Borders said. "The authorities are tightening their grip on all news media and means of communication that could be used to dispute Ahmadinejad's re-election 'victory'. They are doing everything possible to limit coverage of the consequences of the election fraud."

Reporters Without Borders reiterates its appeal to the international community not to recognise the results of the presidential election first round held on 12 June.

"A democratic election is one in which the media are free to monitor the electoral process and investigate fraud allegations but neither of these two conditions has been met for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's supposed re-election," Reporters Without Borders said. "We urge the international community, especially European countries, not to recognise the results announced by the authorities as long as the electoral process is subject to censorship. An election won by means of censorship and arrests of journalists is not democratic."

Media and Internet censorship

The security services have moved into the offices of newspapers where they are reading articles and censoring content. Mehdi Karoubi, one of the candidates, referred to the censorship in a press release. "I cannot even publish my release in my newspaper 'Etemad Meli'," he said.

The newspaper's front page ( displayed on http://www.roozna.com/ ) shows a photo of Ahmadinejad at a rally with columns left blank because of editing by the censors. The newspaper "Velayat" in the province of Qazvin (north of Tehran) has been suspended for publishing a cartoon of Ahmadinejad.

Even governmental news sources have been targeted in the crackdown. Four interior ministry officials have been arrested for giving results that were different from those announced by Ahmadinejad's allies.

Four of the leading pro-reform newspapers have been closed or prevented from criticising the official election results following a warning from Tehran prosecutor general Said Mortazavi. "Kalameh Sabaz", a daily owned by opposition presidential candidate Mirhossein Mousavi, was one of these. Its distribution was blocked and it was forced to change a front page announcing Mousavi's victory. It has not been able to publish since 13 June.

The authorities have also launched a broad offensive against the Internet, controlling and blocking all news websites likely to challenge Ahmadinejad's announced victory. Ten or so pro-opposition websites have been censored.

They include http://www.entekhab.ir/ (inaccessible since 11 June), http://www.ayandenews.com/ (inaccessible since 12 June), http://teribon.com/ , the pro-reform sites http://khordadeno.com/ , http://aftabnews.ir/index.php and http://ghalamesabz.com/ , http://norooznews.ir (the news website of the pro-Mousavi Islamic Participation Party) and http://www.ghalamsima.com/ (which also supports the Mousavi campaign). And the women's rights website http://www.we-change.org/ has been blocked for the 20th time.

The international websites YouTube and Facebook are hard to access. The mobile phone network is being jammed. The service of the leading mobile phone operator, which is state- controlled, has been suspended since 10 p.m. (local time) on 13 June. The SMS messaging network has been cut since the morning of 12 June, preventing use of Twitter.

Foreign media targeted

The blockage of the foreign media has been stepped up. In addition to the blocking of the BBC's website, the Farsi-language satellite broadcasts of the VOA and BBC - which are very popular in Iran - have been partially jammed. The BBC reported that their Farsi broadcasts have been the target of significant jamming "coming from Iran" since 12:45 GMT on 12 June, and that the jamming has been getting steadily worse.

On 14 June, the authorities ordered the Tehran bureau of the Arab satellite TV news station Al-Arabiya closed for a week after it broadcast video of the first demonstration following the announcement of Ahmadinejad's re-election.

Foreign journalists have been prevented from covering the demonstrations, some have been notified that their visas will not be renewed, and some have been the victims of police violence. A member of a TV crew working for the Italian station RAI and a Reuters reporter were beaten by police in the capital. A BBC TV crew was threatened by police at one point, but demonstrators chased the police away. The correspondents for the German TV stations ARD and ZDF were forbidden to leave their hotel on 13 June.

Two Dutch TV journalists working for Nederland 2 were arrested and expelled. Reporter Yolanda Alvarez of the Spanish television station TVE was deported together with her crew on 15 June.

Journalists arrested

Eleven Iranian journalists have been arrested since 12 June. Reza Alijani (winner of the 2001 Reporters Without Borders-Fondation de France press freedom prize), Hoda Sabaer and Taghi Rahmani were arrested on 13 June. Alijani and Rahmani were released on the evening of 14 June. Freelancer Kivan Samimi Behbani, the former editor of "Nameh" ("The Letter"), an independent monthly closed in 2005, and Ahamad Zeydabadi were also arrested and then released.

Abdolreza Tajik was arrested at midday on 14 June at the headquarters of the newspaper "Farhikhtegan" by three men in plain-clothes. A member of the Human Rights Defenders Centre, Tajik has worked for many Iranian publications that have been closed by the authorities, including "Bahar" (closed in 2001), "Hambastegi" (closed in 2003) and "Shargh" (closed in 2008).

Five of the journalists arrested in the past few days are still detained. They include Said Shariti, the editor of the news website Nooroz, who is being held by the police, and Mahssa Amrabadi of the daily "Etemad Melli". She was arrested at her home on 14 June by intelligence ministry agents who came with a warrant for the arrest of her husband, fellow journalist Masoud Bastani. He was not at home at the time.

Two women journalists working at the Mousavi campaign headquarters were physically attacked on 12 June. The Mousavi campaign news centre was ransacked on 13 June by Ahmadinejad supporters, who destroyed its computers. The Qalam News agency operated out of this centre.

There is no word of about 10 other journalists who have either been arrested or gone into hiding.
Case history

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