Iran - Harassment, restrictions and censorship limit election coverage

Reporters Without Borders condemns an increase in the Iranian government’s harassment of Iranian journalists in the final days before the 14 June presidential election and the restrictions imposed on the few foreign journalists allowed into the country to cover it.

With just two days to go, the Iranian authorities still have not issued visas to the vast majority of foreign journalists who requested them and many news media have had their requests rejected.

In an interview for France Culture on 10 June, Ali Ahani, Iran’s ambassador in France, said the Iranian authorities had received more than a thousand media visa requests, 100 of them from French media alone. Checking applications took time but the Iranian consulate in Paris had issued 30 media visas, he claimed.

Reporters Without Borders has learned that foreign journalists who obtained a visa and who are currently in Iran have been prevented from moving about the capital freely. They have been banned from covering the meetings of candidates supported by reformers, and from contacting government opponents or the families of political prisoners.

Speaking to Reporters Without Borders on condition of anonymity, a foreign media reporter said: “Each time you go out, you need permission from the ministry of culture and Islamic guidance. You have to tell them who you want to see, when and where. And to cap it all, you are watched by the government-imposed interpreters.”

Reporters Without Borders has meanwhile learned of the arrests of two more Iranian journalists in the past eight days.

Omid Abdolvahabi, a Tehran-based reporter for the Mardomsalari newspaper and the Reform website, was arrested on 4 June, while Hesamaldin Eslamlo, who is responsible for the culture section of the weekly Parsargard in the southeastern city of Sirjan, was arrested on 8 June.

Why they were arrested and where they are being held is not known. Their arrests bring to 54 the number of journalists and netizens currently detained in Iran in connection with the provision of news and information.

Broadband Internet connection speeds have slowed right down since 15 May, with the result that it is often difficult and sometimes impossible to go online. Many websites, including the sites of official news agencies, have been blocked by the Working Group for Determining Criminal Content.

The Mehrnews agency, for example, was blocked for several hours before being rendered accessible again after the prosecutor general intervened. Around 100 journalists working for state media wrote an open letter protesting against “the completely illegal intensified blocking of news websites.” On 8 June, the state news agency ISNA confirmed Gmail’s “disruption and inaccessibility.”

The intelligence ministry continues to harass the families of Iranian journalists employed by media based abroad. Arman Mostofi, the head of Radio Farda, a Persian-language station based in Prague, issued a statement condemning the harassment and intimidation of the relatives in Iran of nine of his journalists.

Today is the second anniversary of Iran-e-Farda journalist Hoda Saber’s death in detention, 11 days after journalist and women’s rights activist Haleh Sahabi died as a result of the beating she received at her father’s funeral. No one has been arrested or tried for either of these deaths.