Iran's media freedom rank is 173 out of the 180 countries in the latest press freedom index of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) released on Tuesday. The Islamic Republic's rank has dropped three points from 170 in 2019.
The RSF report says Iran has been one of the world's most repressive countries for journalists for the past 40 years with unrelenting state control of news and information and at least 860 journalists and citizen-journalists imprisoned or executed since 1979.
The report mentions extensive control over the media landscape and harassment of independent journalists, citizen-journalists and independent media coupled with intimidation, arbitrary arrest and long sentences imposed by revolutionary courts at the end of unfair trials as some of the factors that have made Iran an extremely difficult environment for journalists to work.
"As a result, it is the citizen-journalists on social networks who are now at the center of the battles for freely-reported news and information and for political change in Iran," the report said.
For the fourth year in a row Norway has gained the first place among the countries with the highest level of freedom and safety for journalists, followed by Finland and Norway. The United States and Israel rank 44th and 88th among the 180 countries in the RSF index.
Violations of the rights of journalists are worrying in the Middle East and West Asia region where the highest rank in the RFS Press Freedom Index belongs to Lebanon (102), followed by Turkey (154), Iraq (162) and Saudi Arabia (170). Syria, China and North Korea, three of Iran's allies, rank 174th, 177th and 180th, respectively.
Iran also imposes strong censorship of the Internet. In March this year RSF put Iran's Supreme Cyberspace Council among the twenty worst digital predators in 2020. The Council uses digital technology to "spay on and harass" journalists, the RSF report said.
Iran security forces often arrest journalists on fabricated charges and subject them through unfair trial and even proper medical attention while in prison.