Iranian officials should break their silence about the status of Baztab Emrooz’s managing editor Ali Ghazali and the news website’s founder Foad Sadeghi, both arrested in the last month in relation to their media activities, and ensure they receive due process while in custody, including access to a lawyer, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said today.
There has been no information about their conditions since their arrests on April 27 and May 18, respectively, and given the recent escalation of media censorship in the lead-up to the election the Campaign is concerned they may be mistreated.
“This election is taking place under the most restrictive and repressive climate of any previous election. Iranian authorities are targeting journalists and treating them as enemy number one because of their ability to shed light on the realities on the ground,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the Campaign.
“The total lack of information about these two detainees is very worrisome,” he added.
As the June 14 presidential elections approach, Iranian authorities have been clamping down on news and information in various ways. Internet speeds have slowed to a crawl and services have been stopped several times; critical websites and blogs have been banned; and several journalists temporarily released on furlough have been recalled to prison facilities. The Ministry of Culture is seeking tighter restrictions on foreign journalists, and jamming of satellite broadcasts, a standard practice by the Iranian government, has also intensified since March.
Since January 2013, Iranian officials have arrested more than 20 reformist and conservative journalists, releasing many without charges. Several publications, including Aseman weekly, Tajrobeh monthly, and Mehrnameh monthly, preemptively closed their operations until after the election; initial reports stated that Iranian officials had shut them down.
At a meeting of the Isfahan Friday Imams held March 14, Iran’s Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi said the recent arrests are related to the upcoming elections. “Our aim is to prevent the emergence of a sedition prior to the elections,” he said.
Following threats and orders not to engage in media activities until after the elections, Baztab Emrooz’s founder Foad Sadeghi was arrested on May 18, after appearing in response to a summons by Tehran Prosecutor Jafari Dolatabadi. According to a report, Sadeghi had been planning rejected candidate Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s media campaign for the upcoming presidential election.
A seasoned conservative journalist, Sadeghi established the Baztab Emrooz website in 2002, and later founded the Tabnak and Ayandeh news websites. He is best known for his investigations into allegations of financial corruption and embezzlement in the Ahmadinejad cabinet.
Iranian officials arrested managing editor Ali Ghazali on April 27, just hours after Baztab Emrooz website published an article about a recording known as “the eight million tape,” an alleged audio recording in which, the article claimed, “Mahmoud Ahmadinejad emphasizes to the officials to announce his actual votes [in the 2009 disputed presidential election], which were 16 million, and not to announce the inaccurate vote count. The remainder of the tape recording is of Ahmadinejad’s calls to various state officials, in which he asks them not to announce the unreal vote count and [to announce] the same 16 million vote count.”
An informed source told the Campaign that Ghazali’s mother was told “not to have any hopes of seeing your son outside of prison for a few years,” and that Ghazali has been charged with “creating public anxiety through repetition of claims of election fraud in the 2009 election.” His arrest was allegedly ordered by Mr. Naimi, the Intelligence Ministry’s Deputy for Culture and Media. The Campaign has been unable to independently confirm his charges. Ghazali has not been released, and there has been no information about his judicial case since his arrest.
Prior to Sadeghi’s arrest, Sadeghi said in a May 4 interview with Bahar News website, “News about the audio tape was received from a source close to Mr. Ahmadinejad, who has in the past given us correct information.” Sadeghi added that he had been summoned and interrogated by security forces several times.
The Iranian Judiciary has consistently charged journalists and bloggers with national security crimes and denied them fair trials with a jury. National security charges expose journalists to interrogations and mistreatment by intelligence forces, numerous counts of which have been documented, including most recently the death of blogger Sattar Beheshti during an interrogation in November 2012.
Iranian censors have blocked several pro-Ahmadinejad news websites and blogs in recent weeks. According to the semi-official Iranian Student News Agency, at a May 28 Media Oversight Committee meeting, six newspapers and publications received warnings, and Dolat-e-Bahar website, which is close to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was blocked. Earlier, several websites and blogs run by Ahmadinejad supporters, including Meyar News, Roshanaee, Baharna, Bahar Online, Bardasht News, Emtedad-e-Mehr, Taffakor Imani, Armanshahr, and Shafiee Kia, were also blocked. Serat News, a conservative news website, was also blocked on May 25.
“Today, no journalist, regardless of conservative, reformist, or independent leanings, is safe from the sword of repression. Freedom of expression is in a very sorry state in Iran,” Ghaemi said.
UPDATE May 30, 2013: The Campaign has confirmed that the security forces who arrested Ali Ghazali and Foad Sadeghi were from the Iranian Judiciary’s Intelligence Unit. Since their arrest, Ghazali and Sadeghi have had brief contact with their families confirming that they are alive and in custody, but they gave no details about their charges nor their conditions, a source with knowledge of the situation told the Campaign.