Continuing the latest crackdown on journalists that began on January 26, Iranian officials banned three publications in Tehran today and arrested three more journalists this week. No official charges have been issued against the journalists or the publications.
Today, March 6, Iranian officials banned Aseman weekly, Tajrobeh monthly, and Mehrnameh monthly, and security forces entered the Maghreb Newspaper offices and arrested the newspaper’s license holder Mohammad Mehdi Emam Naseri and political desk editor Alireza Aghaee Rad. Earlier this week, on March 3, security forces arrested an editor at the social science monthly magazine Mehrnameh, Mohammad Javad Rouh.
With three months to go before the 2013 presidential election, the Iranian press has been facing immense pressure. At a meeting of the Isfahan Friday Imams on Monday, March 14, Iran’s Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi said that the recent arrests are related to the upcoming elections. “Our aim is to prevent the emergence of a sedition prior to the elections,” he said. Heydar Moslehi stated that there are some 600 Iranian journalists, 150 inside Iran, who are “puppets of the arrogant powers,” and the Intelligence Ministry has been able to deal a blow to this group by arresting some of them. According to Moslehi’s presented statistics and analysis, there are still 132 journalists inside Iran who are considered “puppets of the arrogant powers.”
Amir Mousa Kazemi, editor-in-chief of Maghreb Newspaper, told the conservative Tasnim News Agency that the security forces representing the Prosecutor’s Office, “did not state any reasons for the arrests of the license holder and the political desk editor of the newspaper.” Several hours after the incident, Kazemi also told Tasnim, “Several members of the Prosecutor’s Office are still present at the newspaper’s offices.”
Ali Motahari, a Member of Parliament and a member of the Press Supervisory Board, told ISNA that he knew nothing about the publication closures, adding, “The closures must have taken place via direct orders from the Prosecutor’s Office.”
“When an evident crime has taken place, the Prosecutor’s Office can directly take action to ban publications, though we had asked them, to the extent possible, to enter [such situations] through the [Press] Supervisory Board, and that the rulings be issued this way [through the Board],” Motahari said.
In a statement on January 30, the Iranian Intelligence Ministry announced that the arrested journalists were spies and affiliates of the BBC news network and promised further arrests. In its third communiqué about the recent round of arrest, the Ministry claimed on February 19, “Several identified members of the network requested to share and publish their information and experiences about the network, in order to forewarn others.” This claim raised concerns among other journalists and the families of those arrested that the detainees may be under pressure to issue forced confessions.
On January 26, two journalists, Soleiman Mohammadi and Milad Fadi Asl, were arrested. The next day, a Sunday now widely referred to as “The Black Sunday” among journalists, security forces raided the offices of five publications, Shargh, Bahar, Arman, and Etemad newspapers and Aseman Weekly, and arrested nine other journalists. The mass arrests continued into the following days, and security forces are still arresting journalists.
The names of the journalists arrested and released on bail so far are: Motahareh Shafiee, Ali Dehghan, Fatemeh Sagharchi, Javad Daliri, Hossein Haghchi, Keyvan Mehregan, Narges Joudaki, Akbar Montajebi, Rayhaneh Tabatabaee, Milad Fadai Asl, Pouria Alami, Pejman Mousavi, and Soleiman Mohammadi. Yesterday three more journalists, Nasrin Takhayori, Sasan Aghaee, and Saba Azarpeik, were released. Some of the arrested journalists, including Hossein Yaghchi, Akbar Montajebi, and Mohammad Javad Rouh, were active in the publications banned today.
Ehsan Mazandarani, Mohammad Javad Rouh, Mohammad Mehdi Emam Naseri, and Alireza Aghaee Rad remain in detention at this time.
Though the Intelligence Ministry has claimed the journalists are spies, the Judicial authorities have yet to enumerate any charges. It also remains unclear how the judicial cases will be prosecuted.