Monday, January 25, 2010

Offensives on media in Iran

By: Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury

Just for criticizing the undemocratic activities of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iranian reformist journalist Bahman Ahmadi Amoui was sentenced to over seven years imprisonment and 34 lashes by Tehran Revolutionary Court on January 4, 2010. Amoui was an editor for the prominent economic newspaper Sarmayeh, which was closed by the government in November, and had been in prison since 20 June 2009.

The same day, 36 parliamentarians supportive of Ahmadinejad drafted a bill that would require the execution of government critics detained as "Mohareb" [enemies of God] within five days of their arrest. The bill also calls for the period of time allotted for appeals in cases of public order disturbances or "Moharebeh" [war against God] to be brought down from 25 days to five days.

It is no strange that Iranian Mullah’s are putting Ahmadinejad into the position of ‘God’ by passing this notorious bill. I don’t know how the Arab ‘brethrens’ of Iran as well other Muslim nations will now react when Iranian Mullahs are already putting their President into the position of ‘God’ and onwards critics of Ahmadinejad will be treated as ‘enemies of God’.

Meanwhile, Iran's Intelligence ministry has prepared a list of 60 foreign organizations and news outlets that would be banned from the country for alleged involvement in rioting or incitement.

The list included Voice of America, BBC, Human Rights Watch, National Endowment for Democracy, National Republican Institute, Stanford University's Hoover Institution, Search For Common Ground Organization, New American Foundation, British Center for Democratic Studies, East European Democratic Center, YALE, Ford Foundation, Foundation for Democracy in Iran, MEMRI, U.S. National Defense University, The Smith Richardson Foundation, Wilton Park, and Brookings Institute. Any Iranian in contact with a news outlet on the list could be arrested. Iranian missions abroad are already warned not to have minimal contacts with any of the organizations and media outlets, which are already in the list.

A prominent Tehran-based professor of law, Mahmud Akhundi, told Radio Farda that the Intelligence Ministry’s list and warning have no legal basis.

"It is in clear contradiction with human rights principles and with international principles of law. It doesn’t even have any Sharia-based justification,” Akhundi said. Nobody has the right “to define an action that has not been defined previously as a crime, as being criminal,” he added.

Activists and opposition supporters say Iranian authorities have been intensifying efforts to limit the free flow of information in and out of Iran in the wake of mass protests against June's disputed presidential election. In late November, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Iran was facing a "soft war" with its enemies abroad, who were fomenting the street protests that hit the country following the disputed June 12 vote.

"Iran’s Intelligence Ministry has always been trying to prevent contacts between Iranians inside the country and international organizations,” says Faraj Sarkuhi, a prominent Iranian exiled writer and journalist. “In the past they accused the publication 'Adineh,' of which I was the chief editor, of espionage over contacts with International PEN [writers' organization] and said it is illegal.”

According to media reports, Iran has become the country with the largest number of imprisoned journalists following the sentencing of two journalists to prison terms of at least six years each, bringing the total number of journalists currently detained in the Islamic republic to 42.

The 2009 winner of the World Association of Newspapers' Golden Pen of Freedom Award, Ahmad Zeydabadi was also sentenced to five years banishment in Gonabad, a remote northeastern town over 600 miles [1000 kilometers] from Teheran, to be served following his prison term. He was also banned for life from political activity and is currently held in solitary confinement in the infamous Evin prison, under pressure from Iranian authorities to issue a public confession.

Paris-based organization Reporters Sans Frontiers [Reporters Without Borders] says Iran has earned the dubious distinction of being the number-one assailant of press freedoms in the world, after several sentences were handed down. RSF termed Iran as the ‘biggest prison in the world for journalists’.

In a statement, Reporters Sans Frontiers said, “We are very disturbed by the calls repeatedly made by the most senior officials for Iran to impose the ‘supreme punishment’ on detainees, including journalists. The danger is imminent. The regime hardliners are capable of having the crackdown’s witnesses executed. There is an urgent need for international bodies to take action before a tragedy takes place, before political prisoners begin being executed.

An intelligence ministry representative said at a news conference on 4 January: “Several agents from foreign countries have been arrested with cameras and video cameras.” The ministry also released a list of 60 NGOs and news media regarded as having incited and participated in rioting.

“The intelligence ministry and Revolutionary Guards began rounding up government opponents and journalists again after further opposition demonstrations on 27 December. Around 20 people have been arrested in the latest wave, including a dozen or so journalists and cyber-dissidents. The relatives of the detained journalists are still lining up outside Evin prison in an attempt to get news of those believed to be held there.”

Vienna based International Press Institute [IPI]’s press freedom manager Anthony Mills said, it is unacceptable that the Iranian authorities are responding to criticism in the media by arresting journalists and handing down prison sentences. The crackdown on the media must end immediately and the journalists imprisoned simply for doing their job must be freed.

IPI has repeatedly condemned the intensified crackdown by the Iranian authorities on journalists.

New York based Committee to Protect Journalists [CPJ] in a statement said; “Iranian authorities have arrested at least three more journalists in their ongoing campaign to suppress critical reporting and commentary, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the arrests and calls on the government to release all imprisoned journalists, who number more than 30.

“Behrang Tonkaboni, editor-in-chief of the monthly magazine Farhang va Ahang, and Kayyvan Farzin, a reporter for the publication, were arrested at their office on Monday, according to local news reports. Police searched Tonkaboni’s home, confiscating his computer and documents belonging to his mother, the prominent author Lili Farhadpour, news reports said. Authorities also seized Farzin’s computer hard drive.

“Parisa Kakaee, a journalist for the Committee of Human Rights Reporters, was arrested Sunday after being summoned by the Ministry of Information, the reformist news Web site Kalame reported. Kakaee writes regularly about political and human rights issues on her two blogs.

Since the disputed presidential elections in June, Iranian authorities have launched a relentless assault on opposition and independent media. CPJ has documented numerous cases in which authorities have shut down newspapers, blocked Web sites, arrested and sentenced journalists to lengthy prison sentences.

Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator said, Iranian authorities have apparently decided to arrest as many independent and opposition journalists as they possibly can. We call on the Iranian authorities to reverse this regrettable course and release all detained journalists.

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