Iran has become “the world’s biggest prison for journalists,” the Paris-based advocacy group Reporters Without Borders reports. After opening the country to the foreign press during the presidential elections on June 12, the regime dramatically reversed course afterward, when hundreds of thousands of Iranians flooded the streets to protest the election’s outcome.
All foreign media were expelled, while the country’s own reporters were systematically rounded up and detained. Many have been taken to undisclosed locations, where they have had no communication with their families and no access to lawyers. Some have not been heard from in weeks, and some, like Amir-Hossein Mahdavi, editor in chief of Andisheh-ye Now, have suddenly popped up on state-run television to “confess” that the media’s allegations of election fraud were nothing more than a foreign plot to launch a velvet revolution in Iran.
Some arrested journalists have suddenly popped up on state-run television to “confess” that the media’s allegations of election fraud were nothing more than a foreign plot to launch a velvet revolution.
Although the exact number of journalists who have been arrested in Iran is difficult to calculate, Reporters Without Borders estimates that as many as 50 reporters, editors, and bloggers are languishing in prison cells. Many more have gone into hiding. On one day alone, June 22, all 25 employees of Kalemeh Sabz, Mir Hossein Mousavi’s newspaper, were arrested in a security sweep. (According to Amnesty International, 22 of the 25 employees have since been released; the whereabouts of the other three remain unknown.)
Even members of the religious establishment have been targeted. On June 16, a midlevel cleric and vice president under President Mohammad Khatami, Mohammad Ali Abtahi—known to Iranians as the “Blogging Mullah”—was arrested at his home in Tehran. The popular blogger, whose site, webneveshteha.com, is a favorite destination of Iran’s reformers, was not seen again until Saturday, when state-run television showed him standing before a judge, along with dozens of other protesters, testifying that he was mistaken to suggest in his blog that the election results were fraudulent.
The recent crackdown on Iran’s media has not come as a surprise. A few days before the elections, the Revolutionary Guard sent a communiqué to the country’s news organizations warning them to be wary of publishing “threats and rumors” that could compel the population “to riot.” It was a blatant threat that most Iranian journalists ignored. Now they are paying the price.
Iran has long been a one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists, but that has not stopped Iran’s intrepid reporters—men and women like Abbas Abdi of the now-defunct Salam newspaper; investigative journalist Akbar Ganji, currently in exile in the U.S.; and Shahla Sherkat, who founded the leading Iranian women’s magazine Zanan—from challenging the regime’s control of the media and revealing its crimes and secrets to the world.
Recognizing this underreported and deeply troubling aspect of the Iranian regime’s crackdown on the protest movement, we at The Daily Beast are publishing the names, affiliations, and photographs of just a few of the journalists who have been arrested, detained, or are otherwise missing. We demand that the Iranian regime respect the rule of law and immediately release all of the journalists it imprisoned in the wake of the demonstrations that followed the presidential elections.
Keeping these brave men and women in jail only demonstrates to the world that the regime is afraid of the truth. And if we have learned anything at all from the current crisis in Iran, it is that, in the 21st century, there is simply no longer such a thing as complete media control. The truth will always be revealed. It is only a matter of time.
Ahmad Zeidabadi: Journalist with Tehran-based daily Hamshahri, BBC Persian, and the Persian/English news site Rooz. Arrested June 14
Shiva Nazarahari: Blogger and human-rights activist Arrested June 14.
Maziar Bahari: Correspondent for Newsweek magazine. Arrested June 21
Bahman Ahmadi Amooyi and Zhila Bani Yaghoub: Husband and wife journalists who write about women’s rights issues in Iran. Arrested together June 20
Mohammad Ghouchani: Editor of the daily Etemad Meli. Arrested June 18
Mahsa Amrabadi: Journalist and blogger. Arrested June 14
Keyvan Samimi Behbahani: Editor of Nameh magazine. Arrested June 14
Saeed Laylaz: Business reporter for Sarmayeh. Arrested June 17
Mohammad Reza Yazdanpanah: Journalist and blogger with pro-reform newspapers Shargh, Kargozaran, Hammihan, and Farhikhtegan. Arrested July 7
Issa Saharkhiz: Journalist and former editor of Aftab and Eghtesah. Arrested July 4
Mohammad Ali Abtahi: “The Blogging Mullah”. Arrested June 16
Reza Aslan, a contributor to The Daily Beast, is assistant professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside and senior fellow at the Orfalea Center on Global and International Studies at UC Santa Barbara. He is the author of the bestseller No god but God and How to Win a Cosmic War.