Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has documented and condemned tens of cases in which authorities have tried to pressure journalists working for Persian-language sections of international media outlets.
The Iranian Judiciary and intelligence services have used different methods to put pressure on Iranian journalists based abroad and on their families still in Iran.
RSF, in a statement issued on Wednesday, September 6, announced that more than fifty foreign based Iranian journalists have been threatened in various ways and sixteen of them have received death threats.
Based on the RSF statement Iranian journalists working for Radio Farda, BBC’s Persian service, Voice of America, Deutsche Welle and Radio France Internationale, and privately-owned broadcasters such as Manoto TV and Radio Zamaneh are among those who have been threatened by Iran’s intelligence services or judicial authorities.
Radio Farda director Arman Mostofi said four of his staff have been the targets of a total of about ten death threats, all of them anonymous.
“These threats are obviously not signed,” Mostofi said. “They sometimes take the form of a comment beneath an article. The journalist may subsequently be contacted in another way but it’s exactly the same message that will be transmitted. Sometimes the message includes information that only members of the intelligence services could know”, RSF cited Mostofi as saying.
Furthermore, quoting BBC World Service director Francesca Unsworth, RSF writes, “Since August 15, the assets of more than 150 BBC Persian staff, former staff and contributors have been frozen in Iran, preventing them from conducting financial transactions there”.
This is one of the many methods used by the Iranian authorities since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, RSF maintains.
“In the past year”, RSF says it has learned of “ten families of journalists who have been summoned to interviews, usually with intelligence ministry agents. In all, at least 50 journalists based abroad have been threatened in some way in the same period. At least 16 of them have received death threats”.
The security agents, RSF notes, “During past years, have repeatedly pressured foreign based Iranian journalists’ families to force their relatives to stop working for media outside Iran and return to their country”.
The threats against foreign based Iranian journalists are often explicit, RSF insists.
The international defender of journalists rights highlights the case of Fahimeh Khezr Heidari, the presenter of a Radio Farda program called Taboo, often receives threats, adding, “In mid-February, she found the following message posted in the comments section: “Ms. Khezr Heidari, Monday will be a horrible day for a member of your family because you did not take our last warning seriously. Thank you, my corrupt sister.”
Meanwhile, Radio Zamaneh editor in chief Mohammadreza Nikfar told RSF that most of his journalists are often the targets of phishing attempts, in which people may be tricked into letting others take over their online identities. But he gave examples of other forms of harassment as well, RSF asserts.
“The family of one of our journalists was summoned by intelligence ministry agents,” he said. “After showing articles by him that had been posted on our website, they said: ‘Tell him to stop collaborating with Radio Zamaneh.’ Another journalist, a former prisoner of conscience, has been threatened several times by telephone. They tell him his family will suffer the consequences if he does not return to Iran.”
According to RSF statement, several Iranians who used to collaborate with media outside Iran, including Bahman Darash-shafaei, Sirajuddin Mirdamadi and Saeid Razavi Faqih were arrested after returning to Iran.
Moreover, since 2013, five foreign based Iranian who returned to their homeland have been arrested and sentenced to three to twelve years prison terms.
RSF notes that the family members of foreign based Iranian journalists are summoned and interrogated by the security agents after meeting their loved ones outside the country.
However, RSF points, “Because of a more conciliatory foreign policy since Hassan Rouhani became president in 2013, the regime has limited its use of direct harassment in favor of more subtle threats”.
RSF elaborates further, adding, “Nowadays, the families of foreign-based journalists are ‘politely’ summoned to interviews with intelligence officials but the message is still the same: the journalists must ‘stop collaborating with enemy media’ without delay”.
In its latest statement, RSF also reports that Mohammad Milad Zam, brother of the founder of Amadnews website, Rouhollah Zam, has also been detained and thrown behind bars since August 26.
Earlier, according to RSF, two of Mr. Zam’s sisters and one of his brother in-laws were also detained but released later.
Moreover, several journalist, as well as an outspoken dissident and political activist, Mehdi Khazali were also detained.
Tehran prosecutor Abass Jafari Dolatabadi announced on 28 August: “Using a woman as an intermediary, Mehdi Khazali sent false information about the government to counter-revolutionary websites based abroad and to VOA.”
In recent months, Khazali had openly criticized the head of the judicial authority, Sadegh Amoli Larijani, in interviews for VOA and DorTV. His family said he began a hunger strike on his first day in detention. In 2011, he was given a 14-year jail sentence.
Deputy editor of the reformist daily ‘Etemad”, Sassan Aqayee and another journalist, Yaghma Fashkhami were detained on Saturday evening, August 12 and Monday, August 21, respectively.
International Federation of Journalists, IFJ, at its recent World Congress in Anger, France, (8-10 June), quoting a request made by Iranian Journalist Guild, called for the immediate release of all detained journalist in Iran.
Earlier, in a letter on May 13, 39 members of European parliament have called upon the Islamic Republic authorities to release imprisoned Iranian journalists.
According to RSF, Iran is still one of the largest prisons for journalists in the world.
Cover photo: The 2017 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders