The Islamic Republic of Iran has arrested three women journalists in Tehran in less than 48 hours, bringing the number of women journalists currently behind bars in the country to 16, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
In a statement on January 23, the Paris-based media freedom watchdog said a total of 55 journalists, including 25 women, have been arrested for media-related activities since anti-government demonstrations erupted in mid-September. The authorities have unleashed a brutal crackdown on the protest movement, killing more than 500 people and detaining over 18,000, activists say.
Twenty-seven of the arrested journalists remain in custody, while the others have been released on bail awaiting trial, RSF said. The group called on the Islamic Republic to release the jailed reporters, photographers, and bloggers immediately and drop all charges against them.
“The frequency of arrests, the numbers, the brutality… All paint an image of a government determined to cut off the flow of information. But the journalists are just as stubborn: despite the endless arrests, they courageously continue to do their work,” said Jonathan Dagher, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk.
Melika Hashemi, from the online daily Shahr News Agency, was summoned for questioning at Tehran’s notorious Evin prison on January 21, and after she went in, all contact with her was lost, according to RSF.
The group said two other women journalists, Mehrnoush Zarei and Saeede Shafiei, joined Hashemi in prison the next morning.
Zarei, a freelance journalist who had contributed to publications such as ILNA, ISKA and Chelcheragh was arrested in front of her home in Tehran.
Meanwhile, members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) arrested Shafiei, a freelance journalist who had collaborated with Donyaye Eghtesad, Shargh, and Insaf News.
The reasons for the arrest of Hashemi and Zarei was not immediately known. Reports suggested that Saeede was being charged with "propaganda against the system and action against national security".
Iranian authorities have arrested at least eight journalists and photographers since the start of the year due to their journalistic activities. Four of them were later released on bail, awaiting sentencing.
Photographer Ahmad Halabisaz announced on January 16 he had been sentenced to two years in prison. On January 17, journalist Alireza Khoshbat was handed a five-year prison sentence, in addition to one more year for engaging in “propaganda activities against the regime.”