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Visiting Iranian leader must be questioned about media freedom, says RWB

THE LEVANT – The terrible situation in Iran, described in a UN report, should be raised with President Rouhani during his US visit

As Iranian President Hassan Rouhani arrives in New York for the 69th United Nations General Assembly, Reporters Without Borders reiterates its condemnation of the reinforcement of censorship under Rouhani and his many broken promises, and urges the international media to press him on these issues.

Rouhani’s failure to keep his promises and the deplorable situation of freedom of information in Iran were highlighted in a report on the human rights situation in Iran that UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon issued on 14 September for the General Assembly’s consideration.

Ban was asked to produce the report in a UN Human Rights Council resolution last March that condemned Iran’s grave and repeated human rights violations and extended the mandate of Ahmed Shaheed, the special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran, for another year.

Damning report

Referring to Rouhani’s pledges, the report said: “Unfortunately, those promises have not yet led to significant improvements, and restrictions on freedom of expression continue to affect many areas of life.” It also said the judicial authorities still question and arrest journalists, and the intelligence services still harass the media.

Iran’s conservatives and their media lambasted Ban’s report. Mohammad Sadegh Amoli Larijani, the head of the judicial system, accused him of “interfering in the Islamic Republic’s internal affairs” whereas “this county is governed by divine law, not the law of men.”

Culture and Islamic Guidance Minister Ali Janati denied that there was any pressure on the media, ignoring the fact that around 52 journalists and netizens are currently in prison and around 10 publications have been closed in the past year.

Rouhani in the US

Meanwhile, there is little reassurance to be found in the latest statements by any of Iran’s top officials including Rouhani and his foreign minister, Mohamad Javad Zarif.

During a pre-visit interview for the US television network NBC on 18 September, Rouhani was asked about Jason Rezaian, a journalist with dual US and Iranian nationality working for the Washington Post, and his wife, Yeganeh Salehi, an Iranian journalist working for The National, a newspaper based in the United Arab Emirates. It is still not known why they were arrested in Tehran on 22 July or where they have been held for the past two months.

Rouhani replied: “There are a lot of prisoners in the world, and there are a number of Iranians imprisoned by the Americans (…) The people you refer to (…) are Iranian nationals, and perhaps there are people for security or non-security reasons [who] have been detained within the framework of the Iranian judiciary.”

Two other US citizens were arrested in Tehran on the same night as Rezaian and Salehi, one of them a freelance photographer with dual nationality whose family does not want her named. They were released provisionally a month later but Rezaian and Salehi are still detained in an utterly illegal manner.

According to the information obtained by Reporters Without Borders, they are still being held by the Revolutionary Guards, who have subjected them to long periods of solitary confinement and other forms or pressure with the aim of extracting confessions for use against them in a trial.

The ordeal has reportedly hit Rezaian hard physically and psychologically, and he is said to have lost 30 kilos.

Some journalists and netizens have been released recently, but only on completion of their sentences. With 52 journalists and netizens currently held, Iran continues to be one of the world’s five biggest prisons for news providers. With five women journalists and netizens held, it is also the world’s biggest prison for women news providers.

Two of the detained women netizens are foreign nationals. They are Roya Saberi Negad Nobakht, who has dual Iranian and British citizenship, and Farideh Shahgholi, who has dual Iranian and German citizenship. Both were arrested in connection their activities on online social networks. Neither the British nor German authorities have issued any formal statement about their detention.

In any interview or news conferences during Rouhani’s US visit, Reporters Without Borders urges reporters and news media to ask him about the alarming situation of freedom of information in Iran, which continues to worsen, and to press him on the release of detained journalists and netizens.

Relatives of detained Sufi news providers arrested

Concern is growing about the health of nine detained members of a Sufi order, the Gonabadi Dervishes, who have beenon hunger strike since 31 August. Five are journalists and netizens who contributed to Majzooban Noor, a news website that supports the order. The other four are lawyers. All nine have been held since September 2011.

Dervishes who began a peaceful protest in support for the hunger strikers outside the Tehran prosecutor’s office on 20 September were attacked by police on the second day, with the result that about 50 of the protesters were injured, including relatives of the hunger strikers.

Many were also arrested, taken to various Tehran police stations, and then released a few hours later. Reporters Without Borders condemns this crackdown on the relatives of the detained Majzooban Noor contributors.

Following the Tehran police chief’s promise to raise their concerns with the judicial authorities, the relatives posted a statement on the Majzooban Noor website yesterday calling for an end to the protest.

Iran is one of the world’s most repressive countries as regards freedom of information. It is ranked 173rd of 180 countries in the 2014 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders.

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