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IFEX members call for end to government crackdown on media following election

Nik Kowsar

Iranian authorities have censored independent media sources, both local and foreign, as anti-government protests have raged in the country following last Friday's presidential elections, report ARTICLE 19, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and other IFEX members.

The security services have moved into the offices of newspapers where they are censoring content before they go to print, reports RSF. The 15 June front page of "Etemad Meli", the paper of candidate Mehdi Karoubi, shows a photo of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at a rally with a column left blank because of editing by the censors.

Meanwhile, "Kalameh Sabz", the paper of Ahmedinejad's main challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi, has not been able to publish since 13 June.

According to ARTICLE 19, the intelligence ministry has reportedly ordered all newspapers not to write anything which questions the legitimacy of the elections.

Ahmadinejad lashed out at the media shortly after he claimed victory in the election that critics contend was marked by widespread voter fraud. At a news conference on Sunday, he accused international media of launching a "psychological war" against the country.

Staff from several international news organisations, including Belgian, Spanish, Canadian, U.S., Emirati and Italian newscasters, have had tapes confiscated, been ordered to leave the country, been beaten while covering public protests and have even been detained, says ARTICLE 19.

Following a massive opposition rally on 15 June, authorities restricted foreign journalists - including Iranians working for foreign media - from reporting about the protests on the streets, report CPJ and the International Press Institute (IPI). They could effectively only work from their offices, conducting telephone interviews and monitoring official sources, such as state TV.

The BBC said that electronic jamming of its news report, which it said began on election day, had worsened by the end of the weekend, causing service disruptions for BBC viewers and listeners in Iran, the Middle East and Europe.

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, reports the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI).

A range of social communications has also been disrupted inside Iran since election day, including text messaging, social networking sites and official campaign websites of the opposition that were being used to organise protests. At least 10 pro-opposition websites have been censored, says RSF. Then on 16 June, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard warned online media to remove all content that might "create tension," or face legal consequences, reports IPI.

But some protesters in Iran are reaching out to the West using special web servers, such as one developed at the University of Toronto, to circumvent efforts to block websites.

Plus, Iranians abroad are using social networking tools to instantly spread news about their homeland. For instance, on Twitter, Hamid Akbari, a university student in Toronto, follows eight people in Iran he has come to trust, reports the "Toronto Star" newspaper. They tweet about where protesters are gathering for a demonstration, and what police are doing. Akbari then feeds that information to his 500 contacts back home by email or through Facebook.

Meanwhile, 11 Iranian journalists have been arrested since 12 June, including Reza Alijani, winner of the 2001 RSF-Fondation de France press freedom prize. He was released two days later. According to RSF, there is no word from about 10 other journalists who have either been arrested or gone into hiding.

RSF reiterates its appeal to the international community not to recognise the election results. "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," RSF said.

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