It has been more than two weeks since the arrest of Jason Rezaian and Yeganeh Salehi, yet reverberations of the event remain. Reports have emerged suggesting that the two have been held incommunicado except for a phone call to their families the day after their detention, making their arrest more incomprehensible. The week has seen several moves by Iran within its international relations, yet it has also been entangled with news of Iran’s shattering relations with the freedom of expression and information.
The optimism President Rouhani had first brought when elected is becoming slowly diluted with apprehension, as it is now apparent that he has been unable to bring a halt to the increasing crackdown on the press and media by the intelligence forces. It has been dubbed by Human Rights Watch’s Faraz Sanei as an imminent and bitter end to Iran’s short honeymoon with media freedom. Sanei is rightfully echoing fears and condemnation of Iran’s revolutionary courts who have been piling on “catch all” charges against those arrested; such as “propaganda against the state,” “collusion and assembly against the national security,” “disseminating lies,” and “insulting” government officials. Amnesty international have also taken a look into the manner in which journalistic work ridiculously leads to the death penalty in Iran, as seen in the case of Arzhang Davoodi. It seems that the hardliner judiciary does not realise that it cannot silence all of its critics without addressing the issues at play first. There are too many dissenting voices and an increase in momentum through social media, for the judiciary to successfully attempt to silence them – for every one that they attempt to uproot another will sprout.
With Iran expanding on its image on the world stage there are always other ways for the country to become top in something and currently it is in being the worst jailer of female journalists and netizens. Female journalists and media activists have recently come under increasing fire by the arbitrary judiciary, such as Saba Azarpeik, Mahnaz Mohammadi, Reyhaneh Tabatabaei and Marzieh Rasouli.
Facebook users have also seen the repercussions of a retaliating judiciary and intelligence forces. Only a few months ago a revolutionary court in Tehran sentenced eight Facebook users to a total of 127 years in prison for the alleged crime of “insulting or criticising government officials” and “religious sanctities”, along with the ironic arrest for the Happy Dancers.
But it seems that it no longer depends on gender or political affiliations for them to target the next subject, as all those working within the media are under threat. The arrest of Marzieh Rasouli is an example of this, she was not a political commentator; she focused on Iranian culture and literature – however she was arrested on grounds of “spreading propaganda” and “disturbing the public order”. Again, the same goes for Rezaian who based his work on promoting an image of Iran that he felt many on the outside did not see – a positive image. There have been a number of accounts from those who had crossed paths with Rezaian and Salehi who have noted the enthusiasm and love the pair had for Iran and their exemplary mission to share this love with the world. It is thus more perplexing and perturbing that the motives of these arrests are so uncertain. Although Gholamhossein Esmaeili, the head of Tehran’s judiciary, had confirmed Rezaian’s arrest on July 25, saying he had “been detained for some questions,” no other official explanations where given. As usual however, hardliners have come out with baseless accusations to legitimise their baseless arrests. The Iranian Human Rights Campaign reports that the pair have now been associated with espionage. There has been no official statement. The only news to come out of Iran after international outcry has been by Deputy Foreign Minister Hassan Ghashghavi who announced that the detention of Rezaian and others in Iran is an internal matter over which the United States has no say, in the conservative newspaper Vatan-e-Emrooz.
The Iran News Update informs that one of the photographers who was arrested along with Rezaian and Salehi has been released (no information about their identities or the reason for which they were arrested has been provided).
With 65 people behind bars as of July, Reporters Without Borders says that Iran maintains another world class ranking of being one of largest prisons for journalists and netizens in the world. With the pattern we are seeing, unfortunately, there seems to be an acceleration in arrests, regardless of their political backgrounds. There is one thing that they all have in common, they are all innocent. Iran must end its capricious and indiscriminate attack on media workers and activists. Condemnation of Iranian’s violation of its international obligations will continue until issues have been addressed.