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Iran Again Among Top Five Free Media Foes, Says RSF

Reza Moini works at Reporters Reporters Without Borders / RSF Paris focusing on Iran.
Reza Moini works at Reporters Reporters Without Borders / RSF Paris focusing on Iran.

The Islamic Republic, along with China, Syria, Turkey, and Vietnam, held its position as one of the five largest prisons for journalists in the world as of the end of the last Iranian year ending March 21, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) told Radio Farda.

Speaking to Radio Farda’s Mahtab Vahidi Rad, RSF Iran Desk Head Reza Moeinei said Iran ranked 165 out of 180 countries listed according to how dangerous they are for journalists, with 180 being the most dangerous.

Iran has been among the 15 most dangerous countries for journalists since Reporters Without Borders (RSF) initiated the rankings more than twenty years ago, evaluating countries on the basis of their degree of safety for media staff.

Looking back at Iran’s media record in the last Iranian calendar year, Moeinei pointed out that the Islamic Republic has officially admitted to the detention of 28 journalists during that period. Several of them were given prison sentences and the rest await their trials.

“We have repeatedly insisted that these detentions have taken place arbitrarily and even against the Islamic Republic’s own constitution,” Moeinei noted, adding, “In most cases, journalists are detained clandestinely and placed behind bars in unknown and unidentified locations, deprived of their basic rights.”

For nearly forty years, Moeinei says, Iran has suppressed freedom of information, hoping to convert journalists into mouthpieces for the regime or at least rein them in.

Meanwhile, according to Moeinei and RSF records, the Islamic Republic has recently expanded its censorship regime beyond its borders by threatening and pressuring foreign media outlets.

In February RSF reported that “foreign news agencies’ staff in Iran are closely monitored and harassed.” In the report RSF cited a former Tehran-based AFP reporter as saying, “The regime exercises its control by placing journalists within the agency who can tell the authorities what's going on there, or by threatening the foreign journalists who don't accept the censor's rules. There have been several cases of journalists who have even been accused of indecent behavior and have been threatened with imprisonment.”

BBC Persian, Radio Farda, VOA and other foreign based Persian broadcasters are banned from having a bureau in Iran, and their employees abroad are “always under pressure from the Islamic Republic’s different security entities,” said Moeinei.

“The problem with the Islamic Republic’s authorities is their security approach toward journalism and media. They do not recognize independent journalism and want to eliminate it. They want all reporters at the government’s command,” he said.

Since RSF began tracking abuses in Iran in 1997, at least 350 media outlets have been closed, more than 800 journalists and citizen-journalists have been detained and interrogated, and around 500 of them have been given prison sentences ranging three months to 19 years. “All have been denied their rights. Millions of Internet pages of freely and independently reported news and information have been censored,” said Moeinei.

President Hassan Rouhani and his administration, notes Moeinei, “Have done nothing so far for the free flow of information in Iran.” Rouhani’s performance concerning free and independent journalism in Iran is sharply in contrast with his promises during his two presidential campaigns, Moeinei asserts, adding, “Referring to the independence of the judiciary and presenting it as responsible for detaining journalists is an unacceptable excuse repeated by Rouhani and his Ministers.”

Pointing to the fact that the Islamic Republic’s President has the authority to supervise the implementation of its constitution, Moeinei insists, “Rouhani has never stepped in to defend Iranian journalists who were unfairly tried and sentenced.”

On the contrary, Moeinei says most of the pressure on Iranian journalists is exerted by departments, offices, and entities under Rouhani’s direct control.