Physical attack on hardline conservative journalist with intelligence agency links

Published on 23 February 2010

Reporters Without Borders condemns an assault on Payam Fazlinejad, a reporter who works for the ultra-conservative daily Kayhan. The official news agency IRNA said he was taken to Bagiolah Azam hospital after being seriously injured in an attack by several individuals on motorcycles on the evening of 21 February in Tehran.

“Fazlinejad’s controversial personality and his links with the intelligence agencies do not in any way justify the use of violence against this journalist,” Reporters Without Borders said. “It should be condemned by all those who defend free expression. We urge the authorities to shed light on this case.”

Fazlinejad began his career as a journalist working for the weekly Sinema at the end of the 1990s, around the time that Mohammad Khatami became president. He subsequently went to work for the hardline newspaper Kayhan, where he became known for the radical views he expressed in his columns.

Since last June’s disputed presidential election, he has often referring ironically to the opposition press and dissidents as “nato-cultural” (in an allusion to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation). Several journalists and bloggers arrested in the last 10 years have accused him of being an informant for the intelligence services.

Kayhan’s current editor, Hossin Shariatmadry, used to work as an interrogator in Evin prison. Ayatollah Khamenei personally put him in charge of the newspaper at the start of the past decade. Kayhan has distinguished itself of late by its frequent attacks on journalists, intellectuals and dissidents, who are accused of being in the pay of foreign interests. Several libel suits were initiated against the newspaper and its editor but were not pursued.

Violence against journalists has increased considerably since the start of the protests over the results of the presidential election, but in the most cases the government has been responsible for the violence and independent and opposition media have been the targets. At least 65 journalists are currently detained and more than 60 have fled abroad.