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Media repression continues into second week

Nik Kowsar

As daily street demonstrations gripped the nation following Iran's disputed presidential elections, Iran's crackdown on the media continued into its second week, report IFEX members. An unknown number of journalists have been arrested, expelled or confined to their offices, while newspapers are being censored and communications disrupted.

Hundreds - possibly thousands - of activists and supporters of the defeated candidates and as many as 40 journalists and media workers have been detained by Iranian security forces, says the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

"The first step in any crackdown is to eliminate potential witnesses," said CPJ. "With each arrest, deportation and attack on a journalist, the likelihood grows of a violent government response."

Among the journalists and media workers currently in detention are about 25 employees of "Kalameh Sabz", the reformist newspaper owned by defeated reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, which was raided on 22 June by Iran's security forces, says CPJ. The government has blocked "Kalameh Sabz" from publishing since 14 June.

Foreign journalists are also at risk. On 19 June in his first public address to the nation since the demonstrations erupted, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei blamed foreign media, calling it "evil" for attempting to divide the people of Iran, reports CPJ.

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) has written to the Iranian Embassy in Canada protesting the 21 June arrest of veteran Canadian journalist and filmmaker Maziar Bahari. According to Bahari's employer, the U.S. magazine "Newsweek", Bahari was detained by several security officers at his home in Tehran. He has not been heard from since.

According to CPJ and Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Iran is now the world's biggest jailer of journalists, even surpassing China. IFEX members are preparing a joint statement condemning the recent arrests.

Many journalists have gone into hiding to avoid arrest. Several foreign journalists have been forced to leave Iran, such as the BBC's Tehran bureau chief, Jon Leyne. The signals of the BBC and U.S.-government backed radio and televisions stations remain jammed.

Meanwhile, pro-opposition papers continue to be censored. CPJ reports that dailies "Hayat e No" and "Aftab e Yazd" have not been published because of government restrictions on content. "Aftab e Yazd" did not go to print on 17 June after officials said it could not publish a picture of Mousavi on the front page. Other newspapers like "Khabar", "Asrar" and "Hambastegy" also haven't been appearing on newsstands.

Iranians have been turning to social communication tools, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, to get information, but even these outlets have been periodically disrupted, say IFEX members.

According to CPJ, the BBC Persian service reports that 180 Iranian journalists expressed their concern in a petition about increased pressure on journalists by the authorities. "(Censorship) has been unprecedented. Even during wartime there was not this much pressure on publications," the BBC quoted the petition as saying.

The International Publishers Association (IPA) has launched "Freedom to Publish Under Siege in the Islamic Republic of Iran", a report that details how censorship has been used in the country over the past several years. An "IPA Road Map for Freedom to Publish in Iran" gives specific suggestions on how to curb censorship, such as lifting the permit system that restricts the publication and distribution of books.

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