Branded as one of the world’s worst jailer of journalists by the New York Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Iran continues to sentence journalist, particularly women, under dubious and tenuous propaganda charges, most recently Marzieh Rasouli. Rasouli was sent to prison on Tuesday to serve 2 years and endure 50 lashes. She has been sentenced on charges of “spreading propaganda” and “disturbing the public order”. Reports suggest that she, Parastoo Dokouhaki and Sahamoldin Borghani have been accused of collaboration with the BBC; a common accusation their baseless propaganda charges. On the previous day Rasouli had also announced on her Twitter account that she had been informed of her sentence and was expected to go to jail.
This is, however, not the first time that she has been arrested. In 2012, Rasouli, who is a respected arts and culture writer for a number of reformist newspapers including Shargh and Etemaad, was arrested before the preliminary election, spending almost six weeks in solitary confinement, after which she was release on bail. Her arrest shows that there is no area of free expression safe from the threat of imprisonment. She is not a political writer; she mainly writes about literature, under an official licence, for newspapers and writes in her own blog, Three Days Ago.
This adds to the list of recent arrests and convictions against journalists and bloggers, such as Saba Azarpeyk, another reformist journalist. The Committee to Protect Journalists’s Jason Stern tells the Guardian that “the sad truth is the imprisonment of journalists by the dozens has become normal for Iran ever since the government launched an unprecedented crackdown on the press after the 2009 elections.” This is shown in figures from the CPJ which announced that as of December 1, 2013, there were 35 journalists in prison in Iran.
“Now Iran is on track to reclaim the title of the world’s worst jailer of journalists this year.”
Other commentators see this as part of Iran increasing fear of the press. Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, in an interview with Mashable, concluded that “these arrests are targeted at imposing a heightened atmosphere of fear and intimidation on the press, particularly as we reach a critical stage in the nuclear negotiations.” Iran’s fear of independent minds is not a new phenomenon, but it is something that has become more prominent after President Rouhani’s election and the commencement of nuclear talks.
Iran is feeling the pressure. Only last week, the U.N. Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay asked Iran to include human rights issues in the negotiations between world powers over Iran’s nuclear program. Regardless of whether they will or not, the Iranian judiciary is obviously concerned and nervous about independent voices discussing Iran’s domestic affairs. This again condemns journalist to a life in the middle of Iran’s political battlefield, making them inevitable martyrs for their art.
Further, as noted by Ahmad Shaheed, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran – in his March report – the atrocious state of trials in Iran make it clear that these journalists will seldom receive a fair hearing making them even more vulnerable to Iran’s unforgiving judicial arm.
On a solemn note Saeed Kamali Dehghan tweeted:
“Wednesday front pages of Iran newspapers Etemaad & Shargh do not carry news about the arrest of their own journalist Marizeh Rasouli. #Iran”
We look towards Rouhani to finally deliver on his promises and intervene to release the prisoners of conscience in Iran, so that their names are not erased as the champions of the written and spoken word
Image source: http://mashable.com/2014/07/09/iranian-journalist-50-lashes-2-years-in-prison/