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Special Features

IranWire Exclusive: Whistleblowers Leak Files on Abuse of Journalists and Others

February 8, 2019
Arash Azizi
3 min read
IranWire Exclusive: Whistleblowers Leak Files on Abuse of Journalists and Others

At least 860 journalists, 218 of them women, were arrested, imprisoned or executed in Iran between 1979 and 2009 – the first thirty years of the Islamic Republic – according to official records of the Iranian Judiciary. The records were leaked to the Paris-based NGO, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), and were revealed to the world at a press conference in Paris yesterday.

Whistleblowers inside Iran had passed RSF about 1.7 million files detailing judicial action against Iranian citizens, the NGO said; RSF focused on attacks against journalists as part of its mandate to defend freedom of expression and the press. But IranWire understands that the documents also detail official policies against religious minorities, opposition activists and ordinary members of the public.

A source in a key ministry in Iran, with close links to the Judiciary, told IranWire that the extraordinary leak had been coordinated by a group of civil servants.

“For years, these people had hopes that meaningful change can be made by legislative steps,” the source, who is close to the Rouhani administration and who spoke anonymously, told IranWire. “They were some of the same people who were behind the passing of the penal code a decade ago that was meant to standardize processes. But now they see that their role is really marginal, with the Intelligence Department of the Islamic Republic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the Supreme Leader’s office, and sometimes whoever claims to represent the Leader calling the real shots.”

The decision to leak the list to the foreign press, which happened about a year ago, was not taken lightly, according to the source. The popular street protests that broke out in December 2017 pushed the whistleblowers to act, the source added. 

RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire said that the group had spent months cross-checking names in the documents to verify their authenticity. The number of targeted journalists, “at least 860,” is based on RSF’s work analysis of the documents, which IranWire has not seen and cannot independently verify.

The file will be sent to United Nations human rights bodies, Deloire added.

Attacks on journalists, as detailed in the documents, have been based on what the RSF called “spurious charges” such as “collaborating with an enemy foreign state,” “anti-government propaganda,” “insulting what is sacred and Islam,” “insulting the Supreme Leader” and “spying.” 

RSF also said journalists were often denied legal representation and were tortured. 

One of the most poignant findings of the RSF report was that at least four journalists have been executed, including Simon Farzami, an Iranian of Jewish background who also held Swiss citizenship. Farzami was arrested in 1980, when he was the Tehran bureau chief of the French news agency AFP. Jewish Iranians have a long history of holding prominent roles in Iran’s media and publishing sectors.

First they came for journalists...

The massive size of the leak suggests that they contain details or more than just the repression of journalists. RSF says the files show that at least 61,900 political prisoners have been held during the 30-year period, at least 520 of whom were aged just 15-18 when first arrested.

The files also reportedly reveal new information on the infamous massacre of political prisoners which took place in 1988 in prisons across the country. 

“I expect many more reports to come out,” the source in Iran said. “Knowing who the whistleblowers are, I can tell you one thing: if they’ve given up on this regime, who else is left?”



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