While Pointing Finger at Bahrain, Iran Uses Culture Ministry to Interrogate Journalists
During the Universal Periodic Review of the human rights situation in Bahrain by the UN Human Rights Council two days ago in Geneva, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s delegation called on the Bahraini authorities to “free all political prisoners, put a stop to arbitrary arrests of government opponents and end the impunity reigning in the country.”
For once, Reporters Without Borders agrees with Iranian government officials although it is amazed that they dare to lecture others when hundreds of political prisoners, including 31 journalists and 18 netizens, are languishing in Iran’s own jails.
“Iran is one of the world’s most repressive countries and it would do well to apply its own recommendations,” the press freedom organization said.
According to the information obtained by Reporters Without Borders, journalists are being summoned for interrogation at the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, a censorship agency that has been turned into an all-out mechanism of control and repression since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president.
The summonses are issued by Mohammad Hosseini, the minister, and two of his aides, Mohammad Jafar Mohammad Zadeh, deputy minister for press affairs and information, and Mohammad Javad Aghajari, the head of the foreign press department.
When journalists are summoned to the ministry, they are questioned there by Ministry of Intelligence officials and members of the Revolutionary Guards. Those summoned include journalists who work for foreign media. The interrogations are often violent and journalists are mistreated.
“These interrogations are intolerable,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We urge international cultural bodies to terminate all cooperation with this ministry on the grounds that it authorizes these interrogations and permits the mistreatment of intellectuals on its own premises.”
Fariborz Rais Dana, a leading economist, writer and member of the Association of Iranian Writers, was meanwhile arrested at his home on 21 May and was transferred to Tehran’s Evin prison to begin serving a one-year jail sentence for criticising a government decision to relax price controls in an interview for the BBC’s Farsi-language TV station.
Initially arrested on 19 December 2010, immediately after giving the interview, he was released on 17 January 2011 on bail of 30 million tomans (22,500 euros). A Tehran revolutionary court imposed the one-year jail sentence on 17 June 2011 after convicting him on charges of anti-government propaganda and membership of an illegal organization. An appeal court confirmed the sentence last December.
Rahman Bozari, a journalist with the opinion section of the daily Shargh, was arrested on 19 May after being summoned to the prosecutor’s office at Evin prison. Originally arrested on 29 May 2011 and freed on bail two months later, he was sentenced to two years in prison and 70 lashes by a Tehran revolutionary court on a charge of anti-government propaganda.
Reza Taleshaian Jolodarzadeh, the editor of Sobeh Azadi, a weekly that was closed by the authorities in October 2011, has been sentenced to a year in prison by a Tehran revolutionary court on a charge of anti-government propaganda. He has a serious illness as a result of an injury during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war and his doctor says imprisonment could exacerbate it.
He was arrested on 4 February after being summoned before the revolutionary court and was released on 17 April. Under the Islamic criminal code, he now has 21 days to appeal.