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Journalists in exile threatened, pressured and defamed from inside Iran

Reporters Without Borders condemns Iran's threats and defamatory attacks on Iranian journalists living in exile, including UK-based freelancer Masih Alinejad and US-based Arash Sigarchi of Voice of America.

The intelligence ministry and Revolutionary Guards are using the government-controlled national radio and TV broadcaster to orchestrate these harassment campaigns from Tehran.

“Efforts are being made to mask the origins of these threats, but it is definitely the national broadcaster, Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), that is responsible,” Reporters Without Borders said.

“IRIB is a government propaganda mouthpiece and, in some cases, tool of repression. The regime must end its harassment of Alinejad and its reprisals against the relatives in Iran of Sigarchi and other exile journalists.”

Alinejad, who has been living in exile since 2009, received a Letter before Claim on 16 September from a lawyer representing Hojbar Afshar, a London-based journalist who often works for IRIB. The letter accused her of defaming Afshar and warned that she could be target of legal proceedings.

The letter alluded to a video posted on YouTube by a London-based Iranian opposition TV station showing Alinejad interrupting as Afshar was doing a TV interview of a couple on a London street on 20 August about British government pressure on The Guardian newspaper in the Edward Snowden affair. Alinejad is seen telling the couple about the lack of media freedom in Iran.

The lawyer's letter describes Afshar as a freelance journalist who is “not interested in politics.” In fact he works on a regular basis for IRIB.

The head of IRIB is directly chosen by the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. IRIB's current head, Ezzatollah Zarghami, is on a list of Iranian officials subject to European Union sanctions for human rights abuses. IRIB is complicit in the regime's harassment of journalists and netizens and often broadcasts the “confessions” that have been extracted from detainees after torture or long periods of isolation.

Independent news providers continue to be the target of threats and harassment by the Iranian government despite conciliatory gestures by the new president, the moderate conservative Hassan Rouhani, on the international stage and the release of some political prisoners ahead of last month's UN General Assembly.

In particular, the intelligence ministry continues to put pressure on the relatives in Iran of exile journalists. Since June, the families of several journalists working for media based abroad – such as Prague-based Radio Farda (a branch of Radio Free Europe) and Washington-based Voice of America – have been summoned and interrogated at length by intelligence ministry officials.

Sigarchi's and his wife's parents were summoned by intelligence ministry officials in the northern province of Gilan on 10 September and were interrogated for several hours. The officials insisted that they tell Sigarchi to “stop working for VOA” and threatened to “summon other members of the family and even arrest them.”

Sigarchi and Alinejad, who have both lived abroad for five years or more, were forced to leave Iran after being repeatedly subjected to threats, harassment, arrests and long jail sentences.

“What the Iranian government is doing with journalists' families who remain in Iran is tantamount to taking the families of European and US citizens hostage,” Reporters Without Borders added. “These attacks at a distance on journalists outside the country need a firm reaction from the international community.

“It is unacceptable that the Islamic Republic's repressive regime is exploiting the democratic institutions of free countries such as the United Kingdom in an attempt to silence journalists and dissidents who would otherwise be beyond its reach.”

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