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Rights Defender Says Iranian Journalists Face Danger In Turkey

A view of the Iranian consulate in Istanbul. Turkish officials accused two Iranian diplomats In March of organizing the assassination of an exiled journalist. FILE PHOTO
A view of the Iranian consulate in Istanbul. Turkish officials accused two Iranian diplomats In March of organizing the assassination of an exiled journalist. FILE PHOTO

Referring to the Islamic Republic's record of "abducting and killing Iranian refugees", Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has raised concern over the fate of twelve Iranian journalists and citizen-reporters currently living in Turkey.

In a report released on April 30, RSF called on the Turkish government and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to work together to "ensure the security" of the group of journalists and "facilitate their stay in a safe country."

Presently, the Turkish Visa and Immigration Services (VIS) is primarily responsible for handling asylum cases in the country. Reporters Without Borders says VIS's performance was "seriously delayed" and "had a negative impact on the situation of asylum seekers."

RSF has also criticized the "negative impact" of President Donald Trump administration's immigration policies on some cases of Iranian asylum seekers, adding that threats by the Islamic Republic security and intelligence agencies through social media, as well as crises such as the coronavirus outbreak, have further complicated Iranian journalists' problems in Turkey.

"I have always been threatened by the Iranian regime in Turkey,” the journalist, blogger, and satirical writer Sheragim Zand said in a recent email to RSF.

Threatened with arrest in Iran, Zand fled to Turkey in 2014 and applied for asylum, while continuing to work for various media outlets such as IranWire and Radio Farda, and often posting on social media.

After living "in the shadow of fear" for the past five and a half years, Zand says he has seen a recent increase in the Iranian regime’s threats. "They are now threatening to find me and kill me," he says, with the result that he is "more and more afraid" to leave his home.

According to the RSF report, the fear and anxiety of Iranian refugees in Turkey have grown since the start of the Covid-19 epidemic. Alireza Roshan, a poet, writer, and journalist with the Majzoban Noor website who fled to Turkey with his wife and son in March 2018, said the epidemic has made his future much more uncertain, especially as "the immigration services have stopped all processing and UNHCR is powerless."

UNHCR is the main avenue for Iranian asylum seekers in Turkey to find a safe haven and start a new life.

The RSF's report has also highlighted the case of two other Iranian journalists, Arash Sho'a-e Sharq and Massoud Molavi.

A news website editor, Sho'a-e Sharq, who fled Iran after being convicted of "spreading false news" and "publishing without permission," was abducted outside his home in Van, in eastern Turkey, on 5 February 2018 and resurfaced 25 days later in a prison in Iran.

One of his relatives told RSF, "He was detained outside his home by armed men who identified themselves as police officers" and was taken, handcuffed and blindfolded, to an underground car park with three cells, where he was held for the next three weeks.

One of the men who spoke Persian told him that the Turkish police had decided to protect him because he was threatened with being kidnapped by Iranians, the relative said, adding, at the same time, he was repeatedly interrogated about his journalistic activities and his family in Iran. He was finally told that he was in danger and that "either you cooperate and be transferred to Ankara, or you will be sent back to Iran."

He refused to cooperate, and the Turkish police ultimately handed him over to the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), the relative maintained.

RSF says, Iranian journalists in Turkey are also familiar with the murder of Masoud Molavi Vardanjani, the controversial editor of "The Black Box" website, who had worked for the IRGC before fleeing Iran and who had published allegations about corruption within the military elite and in among the Islamic Republic Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s family, including his son Mojtaba.

Molavi was gunned down on an Istanbul street in November 2019, a year after his arrival in Turkey. In an exclusive report, Reuters quoted two senior Turkish officials as saying the murder was instigated by two Iranian intelligence officers stationed in Iran’s consulate in Turkey.

At the same time, Washington also announced that the Islamic Republic's Ministry of Intelligence was directly involved in killing Molavi.

Iran is ranked 173rd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index.

Ranked at 154th, Turkey is also among the countries unsafe for journalists.