RSF alerts on renewed wave of heavy-handed arrests against journalists

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is alarmed to see that the Islamic Republic of Iran has resumed its heavy-handed arrests of journalists after a brief respite. The authorities must release those detained and must stop terrorising the country’s journalists.

The latest victims include Alieh Motalebzadeh, a freelance photojournalist and women’s rights activist, who was manhandled when seven police officers raided and searched her home on 10 May and then ordered her to present herself for interrogation at the prosecutor’s office in Tehran’s Evin prison on 16 May.

She was targeted for participating in an online conference on 21 April entitled “Dialogue to save Iran,” at which journalists and academics discussed the challenges posed by governmental corruption and the government’s current crackdown on dissent.

Keyvan Samimi, a well-known 73-year-old veteran journalist who used to edit the monthly Iran Farda, was arrested on 20 April, on the eve of this conference, after announcing his intention to participate. Accused of contacting “a deviant sect abroad,” he was held incommunicado for nearly three weeks, before finally being transferred to Evin prison on 10 May.

Sajjad Shahrabi, a journalist with state-owned Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) was arrested on 3 May and taken to Evin prison after a raid on his father’s home, where he lives. The authorities confiscated his phone and laptop. It is not yet known what he is charged with.

What with their being subjected to raids on their homes, physical violence and being held incommunicado, this renewed climate of fear for Iranian journalists is unacceptable. We call for the unconditional release of all imprisoned journalists and an immediate end to these tired methods of intimidation.

Jonathan Dagher
Head of RSF’s Middle East desk

On Twitter, Motalebzadeh’s daughter posted a photo of her mother’s front door, which was broken in the raid, and reported that, although her mother was alone at the time, “one of the police officers got into a physical fight with her.” She added that they took her phone and all her electronic devices and “ransacked the house for more than four hours.”

The vice-president of Iran’s Press Freedom Defence Association, Motalebzadeh was already arrested in 2016 after a violent raid. She was released on bail a month later but was returned to Evin prison on 11 October 2020 to serve a three-year sentence for “activities against national security.” After a brief furlough following medical neglect and death threats in prison, she was jailed again on 12 April 2022 and was finally pardoned at the same time as other journalists on 10 February 2023.

Samimi, who is known for his activism, was released in January after more than two years in prison. He was arrested on 24 August 2020 after being summoned to Evin prison, and was given a three-year sentence. He had already spent many years in prison both before and after the 1979 revolution as a result of his journalism and activism.

Since the start of a big wave of street protests in response to Mahsa Amini’s death in police custody on 16 September 2022, the Iranian authorities have arrested 75 journalists, of whom 17 are still in prison. Despite a series of pardons for journalists in March, many are still being harassed, spied on or threatened. RSF has learned that at least one pardon for an exile journalist was recently revoked.