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Media Freedom Group Says Iran’s Journalists Twofold Victims Of State Lie

Rescue workers carry the body of a victim of an Ukrainian plane crash in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020.
Rescue workers carry the body of a victim of an Ukrainian plane crash in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020.

The Islamic Republic’s intelligence organs have summoned at least 21 Iranian journalists across the country, threatening them not to speak about government disinformation over the downing of a Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) passenger plane on January 8 over the capital city Tehran.

In its latest report on Iran, Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reiterated on Thursday, February 7, that it deplores the harassment of dozens of Iranian journalists, who have been interrogated, threatened, searched and forced to close social media accounts for daring to protest about the fact that they have been discredited as information sources because they reported a "state lie as the truth."

On January 8, a UIA's three-year-old Boeing 737-800 was hit by two anti-air missiles minutes after it took off from Tehran's Imam Khomeini International airport for Kyiv.

It took Iran's authorities three days to admit that the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps' (IRGC) missiles hit the passenger plane, killing all 176 onboard. Most of the passengers were Canadian-Iranians.

Local journalists all working for media controlled by the regime had to echo the official government version of the disaster for three days that said the plane crashed because of engine trouble.

Once the government admitted the plane was shot down, thousands of enraged Iranians poured into the streets across the country to protest the three-day-long cover-up and deplore IRGC's role in the tragedy. They chanted, "Shame on liars!" and "Disgraced liars!"

The security forces, supported by the Special Anti-Riot Units, managed to repress the protests.

"After using force to disperse these protests, the authorities stepped up their pressure on the media, banning the publication of anything that did not toe the government line," RSF says in its latest report, adding, "At least 21 journalists throughout the country have been summoned and questioned by intelligence officials working for the IRGC or the Ministry of Intelligence since January 8.

Raising concern over the fate of the journalists, RSF asserts, "None of them has so far been arrested, but all of them know they could be arrested at any time. Some have been warned by the media outlets they work for, of the need to 'pay attention to what you say on social media.' Some have had to close their Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook accounts, or to stop posting on them."

Furthermore, RSF notes that IRGC officials have searched the homes and offices of many journalists, seizing computers, mobile phones, books, documents, and manuscripts. All of these journalists expect to be summoned for questioning soon. They include Mazyar Khosravi, who used to work for the "Shargh" (Sharq) daily newspaper, the freelancer Ms. Yasaman Khaleqian, the "T'adol" daily newspaper's Ms. Moloud Hajizadeh, and the "Dideban e Iran" news website's Yaghma Fashkhami. Both Hajizadeh and Fashkhami were already arrested and imprisoned during the past two years.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity for safety reasons, a Tehran-based journalist told RSF, "I received a summons to go to the ministry of intelligence. It was given to me by my editor, who had already warned me to take care of what I said in my tweets. I told him I wouldn't go because being summoned like that was illegal. That evening someone called me and, without even saying hello, began to insult me. The next day at the ministry of intelligence, it was even worse. I was accused of everything and anything and was forced to sign an undertaking to close all my social media accounts. I'm now waiting to be summoned before a court."

The IRGC's fearsome Intelligence Organization also threatened another journalist in southern Iran. "If you want to stay alive and not spend the next ten years of your life in prison, shut your mouth and your social media accounts! That's all. Don't collaborate with the enemy!" RSF cites the journalist, as saying.

One year ago, on February 7, 2019, as the Islamic Republic was marking the 40th anniversary of its revolution, RSF held a press conference to report what it had learned from a leaked Iranian Justice Department digital file about the scale of the state lies orchestrated for decades about judicial repression in Iran.

"One year after these revelations, Iranian journalists are again the twofold victims of a state lie," said Reza Moini, the head of RSF's Iran desk. "In Iran, a country that the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, describes as 'free,' the entire world is discovering how the suppression of media freedom has helped to institutionalize lies and serious, repeated human rights violations," Moini said.

Based on RSF's documents, Iran is one of the world's eight biggest jailers of journalists, with 23 currently detained, and is ranked 170th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2019 World Press Freedom Index.