The Intelligence Ministry’s third statement does not refer to any evidence of a connection between the arrested journalists and the charges of collaboration with foreign powers leveled against them, instead referring to the detainees as “individuals who were unaware of the nature of the network.”

The Iranian Intelligence Ministry announced in its third statement on Tuesday, February 19, that in recent days more journalists have been summoned and interrogated about their relations with the “British Government Spy Organization.” Previously, 16 journalists were arrested beginning in late January, and their families fear they may have been pressured into false confessions while in prison.

“In continuation of the research process, several other individuals related to the network were summoned and investigated, and several other related individuals who were unaware of the nature of the network were invited, and while they provided information and explanations, they were briefed about the hidden goals and the malicious intent of the network,” the statement said.

“Several individuals identified in the network requested to re-tell and publish their information and experiences from this network in order to provide a warning for others,” the statement adds. The families of the detainees have repeatedly expressed concern that they may have been pressured to make forced confessions while in prison, emphasizing that the arrested journalists were not in contact with any foreign media.

The Intelligence Ministry’s third statement does not refer to any evidence of a connection between the arrested journalists and the charges of collaboration with foreign powers leveled against them, instead referring to the detainees as “individuals who were unaware of the nature of the network.” The statement’s use of the word “briefed” intensifies international concern that the journalists may have been pressured to confirm or repeat the Intelligence Ministry’s claims.

In its earlier statements, dated January 30 and February 5, the Iranian Intelligence Ministry claimed that the detained journalists were in contact with the BBC and “elements of the 2009 sedition” and stated that arrests of journalists will continue. In its third statement, in addition to the BBC news network, the Ministry added the names of several other websites, news networks, and any training in the field of media to the list of “spy networks,” claiming that that all of them are controlled by the BBC. The statement mentioned Kaleme, Rooz Online, Khodnevis, JARAS, Nedaye Sabz, Gozar, Saham News, and the Persian-language services of Radio France International, Radio Farda, Deutsche Welle, Voice of America, and Manoto TV as anti-revolutionary media, related to the 2009 “sedition elements.”

Reporters Without Borders, the International Association of Iranian Journalists, the Iran Media Program, and Mianeh School of Journalism are some of the other organizations described as “anti-revolutionary” in this statement.

Iranian media outlets close to the security apparatus, such as Fars News Agency, have been printing strong accusations against the detained journalists even as the charges continue to come forth and before any trials have been set.

Speaking on February 18 about the arrested individuals at a press conference, Spokesperson for the Iranian Judiciary Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei said, “The charges listed by the Intelligence Ministry are the least of their charges,” and “their release will depend on their level of cooperation.”

Ejei was asked whether he was aware that some media had called the arrested journalists “traitors,” prior to a trial and without public release of their indictments. “Personally, I have not seen anyone mentioning any names, but if someone mentioned a name this is not right at all, and it is prosecutable, and if the individual is acquitted later, he can sue for defamation in this case,” he responded. Fars News Agency and other state media have called the detainees “spies.”

The most recent wave of journalist arrests began on the evening of January 26 with the arrests of Milad Fadai Asl and Soleiman Mohammadi. A day later, on Sunday, January 27, a day since called “the Black Sunday” among Iranian journalists, security forces raided the offices of four newspapers, Shargh, Etemad, Bahar, Arman, and one weekly, Aseman, and arrested nine more journalists. The arrests continued into the next days and five more journalists were arrested. These 16 arrested journalists worked in the political, social, literary, and arts sections of non-government publications.

Of the 16, Rayhaneh Tabatabaee, Milad Fadai Asl, Soleiman Mohammadi, Sasan Aghaee, Nasrin Takhayori, Emily Amraee, Narges Joudaki, Saba Azarpeik, Pouria Alemi, Akbar Montajebi, Kayvan Mehregan, and Hassan Yaghchi remain in prison. Over the past few days Ali Dehghan, Fatemeh Sagharchi, and Javad Daliri have been released on bail; Motahareh Shafiee was released one day after her arrest.