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Iran Accelerates Crackdown on Media and Dissidents Prior to Election

Source: International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran

During a June 1 political rally for presidential candidate Hassan Rohani in Tehran (pictured), security forces reportedly arrested several youth campaign workers after slogans were chanted supporting the detained 2009 election opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi.

(June 10, 2013) Iranian authorities should immediately stop censoring newspapers and news websites, arresting political activists, and muzzling foreign journalists within the country, ahead of the June 14 presidential election, the Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said today.

“If there was any doubt that the authorities plan to engineer this election to make sure a regime favorite ends up in office, it has now become crystal clear,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the Campaign. “The authorities are not only preventing a number of candidates from expressing their ideas, but are also pressuring their own supporters to make sure the hardliner candidates remain unchallenged.”

Yesterday, June 9, Brigadier General Seyyed Masoud Jazayeri, Deputy Chief of Joint Armed Forces Headquarters, threatened “a few of the candidates,” alluding to the two reformist candidates in the race, Mohammad Reza Aref and Hasan Rohani.

“We have warned before that it’s better that candidates express their opinions within the framework of presidency’s authority, and avoid entering in those issues related to security or the armed forces,” said Masoud Jazayeri, who also heads the Defense Propaganda Headquarters, adding that the IRGC will confront those candidates “who have spread untrue information and painted a black picture [of the regime], after the election.”

Since the beginning of June, several political activists and campaign workers have been arrested at political rallies, at their work places, and at their homes. In addition, journalists and activists who had been imprisoned after the 2009 elections and were later released on furlough have been recalled to prison in the month leading to the election.

On the threshold of the Iranian presidential election, pressure on families of Radio Farda employees in Iran has increased severely, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported. According to Radio Farda’s director Armand Mostofi, over recent weeks, security forces have summoned family members of Radio Farda staff in at least nine separate incidents, interrogating them about the activities of Radio Farda employees and urging them to tell the journalists to sever their professional activities with Radio Farda or covertly cooperate with Iranian security organizations. Mostofi also said that the journalists have been targets of cyber attacks seeking access to their personal information.

“The Iranian regime won’t even tolerate the political activities allowed by its own laws, not even by those people approved by the selective Guardian Council,” Ghaemi said.

On June 4, during the funeral procession of former Isfahan Friday Imam Ayatollah Jalaleddin Taheri, thousands of people marched and chanted anti-government slogans, including “Death to the dictator,” according to Radio Farda, a US-owned Persian-language news outlet.

That same day, security forces arrested four political and cultural figures close to the reformist National Religious Group-Reza Aghakhani, Nasrollah Lamshani, Alireza Akbarzadeh, and Hossein Bahirai-at their work places and searched their homes, Nationalist Religious Website reported. No charges or reasons for the arrests were announced.

Intelligence Ministry forces arrested four campaign workers from disqualified candidate Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s campaign at their homes on June 2, after searching the premises and seizing computers and notes. Seyed Ziaeddin Reza Tofighi, the head of Hashemi Rafsanjani’s campaign in Kokiluyeh and Bouyerahmad Province; Seyed Reza Askari; Ghasem Yazdani; and Seyed Askar Erfanizadeh were all arrested.

During a June 1 political rally for presidential candidate Hassan Rohani in Tehran, security forces reportedly arrested several youth campaign workers after slogans were chanted supporting the detained 2009 election opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi. Saeed Allahbadashti, Mojtaba Hashemi, Mohammad Parsi, Shirin Mirkarami, Mohsen Rahmani, and several others were among those arrested. According to a statement on candidate Rohani’s website, most of those arrested were released after negotiations, and “nonstop efforts by Dr. Rohani and his campaign staff for the release of the remaining friends continues.”

In addition to these new arrests, several journalists and political activists who had been arrested in the aftermath of the 2009 election and released on furlough have been recalled to prison in recent weeks. Journalists Ahmad Zeidabadi, Bahman Ahmadi Amouee, and Massoud Bastani, as well as political activist and blogger Hossein Ronaghi Maleki, were all recalled to prison in the fourth week of May.

“By arresting political activists, the authorities are trying to prevent anything unscripted from happening, but they’re also hedging their bets and silencing the press to make sure that if something does happen, no one will hear about it,” Ghaemi said.

While the Intelligence Ministry ramps up arrests of political activists and journalists, the Criminal Content Work Group, which determines illegal Internet content, has been blocking the websites of licensed media outlets.

“According to the Parliament resolution, news websites and news agencies are included in the press law and their violations must be reviewed in the presence of the press jury,” Member of Parliament Ali Motahari told the Iranian Parliament News Agency. As the Parliament’s representative to the Press Oversight Committee, Motahari criticized the security approach to the news websites and called the blocking of news websites and news agencies by the Criminal Content Work Group “illegal.”

The Work Group blocked conservative Serat News website on May 24, and on June 3 the Internet service provider for semi-official Mehr News Agency was ordered to block access to its website after Mehr News published a critical interview with the managing editor of Serat News. Furthermore, Branch 76 of Tehran Penal Court ruled for a six-month ban on Iran Newspaper for “publishing falsehoods” on June 2.

There have been widespread reports of choking of Internet access throughout Iran. Following reduced Internet speeds and widespread public outcry about lack of access to Internet over the past month, a government official dismissed the claims of suppressing the exchange of information between Iran and the rest of the world as rumors.

“That is absolutely not true, and delusions of a group of people who want to create doubt in the health of the elections. People know themselves that there is no problem in Internet communications and that they have access to all the permitted websites,” Alireza Shah Mirzaei, a member of Iran’s Supreme Council of Cyberspace, told IRGC-related Tasnim News website.

Iran’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance has also been preventing foreign media from filling the information gap.

“Not only is this not a free election, but journalists and news media are not even free to report on these unfair elections,” Ghaemi said.

A foreign journalist currently in Tehran told the Campaign that reporters are facing severe restrictions on their movement. The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance has appointed “minders” to accompany all foreign journalists, he told the Campaign, requesting anonymity for fear of losing his reporting visa.

On May 30, Iran’s Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance told Mehr News Agency that “security and oversight organizations must pay close attention and inform us, and we will issue them permission to enter Iran and report the news.” Director of Foreign Press of Iran’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance Mohammad Nasser Haghighat told Fars News Agency that “more than 200 foreign reporters from 105 media outlets and 26 countries have applied for visas to travel to Iran” to cover the elections.

In the first few months of 2013, as Iranian authorities launched a renewed crackdown on journalists, their accusations of collaboration with foreign organizations created a chilling effect on media reporting. Many publications preemptively closed down so as to avoid targeting by officials.

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