CHRI noted that Kazemi is at least the second journalist to be arrested in Tehran during the past two weeks, apparently on the basis of nothing other than his work as a reporter. An attorney for the detainee gave no indication of whether charges had been filed against him or which Iranian authority carried out the arrest, but he did point out that the arrest was made “without prior warning,” in a display of repressive trends that are becoming worse in the current domestic environment.
The lawyer, Ali Mojtahedzadeh, was quoted as saying that under Iranian law, arrests via unannounced raid are “only permissible in very limited cases for people accused of serious or dangerous crimes.” He added that such surprise arrests are nonetheless “repeatedly happening to journalists and becoming a normal pattern.” But it bears noting that many Iran watchers would no doubt insist that this has been a familiar pattern for some time, especially if one considers the use of that method of arrest not just when journalists are the target but also when the arrests strive to silence and criminalize dissent by political reformists, human rights defenders, and other activists.
What’s more, aggressive and apparently unlawful arrests are only one part of a broader strategy of intimidation directed against dissenting voices in the Islamic Republic. Harsh treatment at the point of arrest often leads to harsh treatment in detention and the threat of extremely harsh sentencing. As an example of this latter phenomenon, the CHRI report notes that the previously arrested journalist, Pouyan Khoshhal, was subjected to charges that could carry the death penalty solely because he failed to refer to the death of Imam Hossein martyrdom, thereby supposedly breaking with the regime’s enforced hardline Islamist ideology.
Although CHRI referred only to these two arrests as having taken place in the past two weeks, there is little reason to suppose that they stand alone, especially given that the clerical regime has been credibly accused of stepping up its overall domestic repression in the face of widespread and ongoing anti-government protests. Some other arrests of journalists may carry a lower-profile while still being apparent examples of the crackdown on dissenting voices and the suppression of free speech.
On Tuesday, the Human Rights Activists News Agency pointed to what may be one such case. It noted that a metropolitan beat reporter by the name of Vahid Ahang had been arrested by local authorities on the basis of a complaint filed by the Municipality of Dishmok, amidst years of critical reporting on municipal business matters. Ahang reportedly faces charges of “insulting, slandering, and threatening” municipal workers.
In this way, the case arguably highlights the top-down nature of media suppression in the Islamic Republic, with similar politically-motivated charges being applied in defense of government officials and their private sector associates at both the national and the local level.
Meanwhile, the Iranian government continues in its apparent efforts to bury reports of domestic crackdowns on the free press by portraying itself as the target of malicious conspiracies by foreign news outlets, with the backing of foreign governments. Toward this end, Iranian Ambassador to the UK Hamid Baedinejad used Twitter on Monday to denounce a UK-based news network called Iranian International TV, which allegedly receives funding from the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In the wake of that station airing comments that praised a recent terrorist attack in the Islamic Republic, Baedinejad claimed that some “employees who wish to leave the TV network have called my embassy and complained about the intimidations made by the network managers.”
The ambassador then added that he had offered help to these journalists, but in reporting upon the announcement, IranWire expressed extreme skepticism about that supposed offer and about whether Iranian exiles had ever reached out to the embassy in the first place. In light of “recent violence against journalists,” the report asked:
“Do journalists who formerly worked for BBC Persian, VOA Farsi, Manoto TV, and Iran International feel safe in Iran’s embassy? Do any of them believe the ambassador’s tweet to be genuine? Has the Islamic Republic ever helped an Iranian journalist, apart from those employees working for the state media, Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting?”
The same report notes that the press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF) seized upon Baidinejad’s tweet, thanking him for bringing attention to the supposed instance of threats occurring on British soil, but then questioning the ambassador over the escalating crackdown on reporters inside the Islamic Republic. The organization identified six Iranian journalists by name who are currently known to be in detention without access to their lawyers.
These and other cases had already been highlighted by RSF in previous public statements, which referenced an escalating crackdown on press freedom by Iranian authorities. Iran Human Rights Monitor provided details on Thursday of some of the cases that had come under the RSF spotlight, noting that in addition to several arrests in recent weeks, a number of reporters have been subjected to questioning and harassment as the regime continues to warn journalists and activists against deviating from Tehran’s official line.