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Iran arrests news providers, blames foreign media

UPDATE: With another arrest, Iran continues crackdown on press (CPJ, 22 February 2013)

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders condemns the renewed crackdown on Iranian journalists, in which a wave of arrests in Tehran on and around the “Black Sunday” of 27 January has been followed by interrogations and arrests of journalists in several provincial cities.

At least 15 journalists and netizens – members of the Hana literary association and contributors to the monthlies Koshk and Varia and the bimonthly Najva – were summoned and interrogated for several hours by intelligence ministry officials in the southwestern city of Ilam on 17 February.

According to the information obtained by Reporters Without Borders, around 10 journalists, netizens, political activists and civil society members have been summoned for questioning or arrested in other parts of the country. During interrogation, they were warned that undertaking any activities in connection with next June's presidential election would be met with reprisals.

A total of 58 journalists and netizens are currently detained in Iran.

“The Iranian authorities must end these successive arbitrary arrests,” Reporters Without Borders said. “With five months to go to the next presidential election, they are pursuing a strategy of preventive arrests and systematic intimidation of news providers. This operation is designed to silence any criticism of the growing obstruction of freedom of information and the crackdown on journalists who could draw attention to electoral fraud.”

In a press release yesterday, the intelligence ministry accused all the foreign-based media that broadcast to Iran (BBC, RFI, DW and VOA), and Reporters Without Borders, of being paid by European and especially British intelligence agencies to wage a psychological war against the Islamic Republic of Iran and of using a network of journalists inside Iran to this end.

The release said: “Journalists in this dismantled network collected and transmitted information abroad to be used as a working basis by western groups specialized in psychological warfare to conduct interviews with intellectuals and organizations (…) Material then broadcast by these media to the Iranian public or used by Ahmed Shaheed, the special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran and by other bogus western human rights organizations for mendacious reports about the human rights situation in Iran.”

The communiqué continued: “Using the BBC model, Reporters Without Borders created a regional unit for Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan and appointed a counter-revolutionary who fled Iran to run it. He is in contact with counter-revolutionary organizations and European intelligence services. This individual had and still has the job of following up the residence and asylum applications made by members of this network who flee abroad.”

The intelligence ministry's release added: “Some members of this network are ready to talk publicly about their experiences.”

Two days before this release, Ahmad Bakshaysh, a member of parliament's National Security Committee, spoke to the newspaper Roozonline about its meeting with the head of cultural affairs at the intelligence ministry and what this official told the committee about the arrests of journalists.

“These arrests are preventive,” Bakshaysh said. “Their aim is to prevent the activities of a network inside and outside the country in the run-up to the June 2013 presidential election (…) This network encourages journalists to interview various government officials in order to highlight their differences.”

Bakshaysh added: “Since their arrest, some of them have understood their errors and are ready to testify to this (…) I think he was referring to televised confessions.”

Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said: “This will not be the first time that confessions extracted by means of mistreatment – confessions which are in fact segments of filmed interrogations – are broadcast on the national TV stations and are rebroadcast by Press TV and Al-Alam.

“Imprisoned journalists have already accused these two TV stations of complicity with the intelligence ministry's torturers in preparing and broadcasting extracted confessions. Such practices are unacceptable and clearly violate the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the Islamic Republic of Iran has signed and ratified.”

Although some of the recently arrested journalists have been released, Reporters Without Borders is very worried about the conditions in which 12 of those arrested on “Black Sunday” are still being held in Evin prison's Section 209, a section controlled by the intelligence ministry. They are still in solitary confinement and are being denied all their rights, including family visits and access to a lawyer.

Several government officials have confirmed that their arrests were directly related to preparations for the June 2013 election.

Reporters Without Borders is meanwhile also concerned about the state of health of many other detained journalists and netizens such as Arash Honarvar Shojai, the editor the blog Relation to the Land of Iran, and Mohammad Reza Pourshajari, who are being denied the medical treatment they need while being held arbitrarily.

Shojai, who has been hospitalized twice in Tehran in the past, had some kind of heart attack in his cell in Rajaishahr prison on 17 February. His condition is still critical but the judicial authorities continue to systematically reject his requests for medical parole.
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