One year and three months after the disputed June 12 presidential election, which led to the arrest and intimidation of many photojournalists, a large number of them have switched paths by opening studios or engaging in other forms of the art; many are unemployed; and some have left Iran altogether, though they still speak of the liveliness of the profession, despite being worried about its prospects.
Following last year’s presidential election, several photojournalists were arrested and held at Evin Prison’s ward A, which is under the control of the Islamic Passdaran Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). These photojournalists were accused of espionage because of the photographs they had taken. Independent photojournalists were banned from working and their work permits were revoked. Other photojournalists were attacked, and some were even stabbed by plainclothes agents. Many cameras were broken, while other cameras were confiscated by police and security forces. But despite all the pressures and threats, the world looked at photographs that described the post-election reality in Iran more than any printed report.
Abbas Kowsari, the head photojournalist for the reformist daily Shargh and one of the most experienced photojournalists in Iran, tells Rooz, “I have seen many photojournalists who have opened studios over the past year and work at weddings or parties. Their numbers are growing by day, which shows that they are distancing themselves from their area of expertise.”
Mr. Kowsari adds, “We are not invited to events. The news agencies cover them and provide newspapers with free photographs when they should be charging for them. When photographs are free, the photojournalism profession is in danger.”
He concludes, “Not every limitation is political; many limitations are financial, and some are professional. When newspapers receive free photographs, it is understandable that they wouldn’t want to hire photojournalists.”
I ask Abbas Kowsari about the impact of the post-election events on his profession. He says, “After last year’s election, what’s happened is that there is no more trust; people don’t trust photographers. It’s natural, they don’t know where their photographs will end up, and they are afraid.”
Like Abbas Kowsari, Majid Saeedi is an experienced photojournalist. His work dates back to before the 1997 presidential election. He was arrested after the election last year by the IRGC and released on bail.
He says, “They arrested me because of my work…. They accused me of spying from the beginning.”
Mr. Saeedi is now working in Afghanistan for a foreign news agency. He says, “The sanctity of the camera has been broken, since last year when they beat photographers, arrested them, insulted them, and jailed them. The atmosphere is a security atmosphere. You can’t carry a camera around. Everyone, from the Basij (the para-military force under the command of the IRGC) and IRGC to the police and ministry of intelligence, feels obliged to catch a spy, and the first thing that they see is a camera. The camera has become evidence of crime and espionage.”