World Press Freedom Day on May 3 fell at a time when scores of Iranian journalists and citizen journalists were once again dealing with arrest, torture, harassment and jail terms over their work, in addition to the renewed threat posed by Covid-19.
In the past 12 months, among the reporters and photographers targeted again by the Islamic Republic are Abolfazl Amanolah, Noushin Jafari, Kayvan Samimi, Amir Abbas Dehbashinejad, Mehdi Sohrabi, Elahe Ramazanpour, Shahram Safari, Elahe Mousavi, Yashar Soltani, Saba Azarpeyk, Masoud Kazemi, Mohammad Safar Lafouti, Mahmoud Mahmoudi, Hossein Razzaq, Alieh Motalebzadeh, Emadoddin Baghi, Moloud Hajizadeh, Farid Modaresi, Mohammad Mosaed, Pouria Pourmand, Mehdi Darispour, Vida Rabani, Fatemeh Tamimi, and Khosro Sadeghi Boroujeni.
Some of these members of the press, including Jafari, Samimi, Motalebzadeh and Sadeghi Boroujeni, are still in prison. Others are awaiting the execution of their sentences, while still others have fled the country in fear of persecution.
Last year the Islamic Republic also killed Ruhollah Zam, journalist and founder of the dissident website and telegram channel Amad News. In September 2020, members of the Revolutionary Guards abducted the reporter-in-exile in Baghdad, brought him back to Iran and charged him with 17 separate offenses, including "corruption on earth”. The Iranian judiciary sentenced Zam to death and he was hanged in December 2020.
"These are difficult days for the whole world," Reza Moini, head of the Iran-Afghanistan desk at Reporters Without Borders, told IranWire’s sister website Journalism is Not a Crime.
"In the Reporters Without Borders ranking we published for this occasion, the world is not in a good position in terms of journalism. Various crises, especially Covid-19, have slowed down the dissemination of information in many parts of the world.
“In countries with authoritarian regimes, in addition to the censorship that already existed, the Covid-19 crisis has exacerbated the weaknesses in sharing information. In Iran, according to our reports, repression, detentions, and sentences [against journalists] have worsened since May last year."
Iran now ranks 174 out of 180 countries in the world in Reporters Without Borders’ latest Press Freedom Index, which was published on April 20, 2021. The country has ranked among the worst in the world for freedom of expression for the past 10 years running.
One of the most recent detentions that led to public outcry in Iran was that of Noushin Jafari, a journalist and camerawoman for film and TV, who was summoned to serve a four-year prison sentence in February 2021. She is currently being held in the notorious Qarchak Prison in Varamin, where she is reportedly in poor health.
Among the journalists to have fled the country is Mohammad Mosaed, who was facing four years and nine months in prison after questioning Iran’s coronavirus statistics. He finally crossed the border into Turkey on January 17, 2021, in the dead of winter, whereupon he was detained by Turkish police and taken to hospital. Eventually, after the intervention of human rights activists, Mosaed was allowed to remain in the country for his asylum application to be processed.
Turkey has now become the first destination for Iranian refugee journalists. Experience has shown have shown that even here, they run the risk of being returned to Iran, assassinated or kept in the asylum application queue for years on end. "Over the past four decades, many Iranians have left Iran and all hope to return," Mohammad Mosaed said in an interview with CBC Canada on February 9, 2021. "I hope to return to Iran for just one day – and see my people in happiness and peace."
Covid-19 has also claimed the lives of at least 15 Iranian journalists in the past year. According to a report by the Press Emblem Campaign (PEC) published in March 2021, the victims included Ali Akrami, political activist and journalist, Abdollah Zavieh, morning editor-in-chief of Fars News Agency, Ruhollah Rajaei, editor-in-chief of Jam-e Jam, Soheil Gohari, former public relations manager at Esteghlal Club, veteran journalists Ebrahim Ebrahimzadeh and Ali Behzad, a veteran journalist, Mohammad Reza Hassanbeigi, a writer, journalist and former expert commentator for Radio Farhang, Safar Khajavirad, veteran editor of Etela'at and Iran newspapers, and author of Hamshahri Mahaleh, Mohammad Reza Akbari, a cartoonist for Hamshahri newspaper, and Cirus Borzou, editor and founder of the monthly Boundaries of Space.
Other Iranian media figures who fell victim to coronavirus were Morteza Haddad, a designer, graphic artist and media activist based in Qazvin, Pejman Mahdavifar, a journalist from Ilam province working with IRNA and Fars News Agencies, Abuzar newspaper, and the news website Last Title, Haidar Navidi, editor-in-chief of Abshar newspaper and a senior member of the West Azerbaijan press, Mehdi Gholi Rashidi, the editor of Azarbayjan-e Bidar weekly, and Mehdi Kashi Nahanji, a journalist based in Hamedan province.
Despite the climate of violent repression and government censure, and the threat posed to their lives by coronavirus, the Iranian journalistic community continues to survive. For how much longer, it is hard to say.