Fresh Journalist Arrests In Iran Include Former Culture Official

By Golnaz Esfandiari

Iranian authorities have arrested two journalists, including a former deputy culture minister who was jailed in the 2009 crackdown that followed the disputed reelection of then-President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

The son of ex-official Issa Saharkhiz told RFE/RL that his father was arrested on November 1 at his residence in Tehran on charges that include "insulting the supreme leader" and "propaganda against the regime."The arrests are likely to have a chilling effect on journalists and activists ahead of major elections early next year in Iran.

Meanwhile, a relative of Ehsan Mazandarani, editor in chief of the Iranian daily Farhikhtegan, told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that Mazandarani was detained the same day, also in the capital.

Mehdi Saharkhiz said his father was taken to an unknown location by seven members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), who also confiscated some of his personal belongings.

He linked the elder Saharkhiz's arrest to planned February 2016 elections for the parliament and the Assembly of Experts in which reformists are hoping to make a comeback.

Mehdi Saharkhiz said hard-liners appeared determined to stifle the country's political atmosphere, which some say has eased slightly since the election of relative moderate President Hassan Rohani.

"It seems as the election date approaches, [hard-liners] want to increase [the pressure] and take away the little power President [Rohani] has," he told RFE/RL.

Mehdi Saharkhiz said his father had vowed that upon arrest, he would launch a hunger strike.

Saharkhiz was released from jail in 2013, four years after his conviction on security charges, including "acting against Iran's national security." He was among dozens of journalists, intellectuals, and activists to have been arrested and put on trial in 2009.

Saharkhiz served as the head of the Culture Ministry's press office under former reformist President Mohammad Khatami.

Following his release from prison, Saharkhiz had remained outspoken in his criticism of the Iranian establishment and human rights violations.

Mazandarani was also taken into custody on November 1 at his home in Tehran, one of his relatives confirmed in an interview with RFE/RL's Radio Farda. 

It was unclear what allegations he might be facing.

Mazandarani was previously arrested in 2013 and held at Tehran's Evin prison. Hard-line websites claimed at the time that he had been jailed over ties with "counterrevolutionary" media.

In recent weeks, several activists and intellectuals, including two poets, have been sentenced to heavy prison terms and lashes.

Meanwhile, Iran has arrested a fourth Iranian-American, businessman Siamak Namazi, who was reportedly detained about three weeks ago by the intelligence branch of the IRGC. 

The reason for his arrest is unclear. But some observers regard it as a move by hard-liners who oppose any possible thaw in relations with the United States following a landmark nuclear agreement reached in July.

Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian was convicted by an Iranian court last month after being put on trial on espionage charges dismissed by his paper and his family as absurd. 

With reporting by Radio Farda's Roozbeh Bolhari