In Iran, journalists are intimidated, persecuted and vilified. They face arbitrary arrest, and are routinely handed down long prison sentences for doing their jobs. Many of the charges against them are vague and open to interpretation, making the legal system a powerful tool for punishing dissent, investigative reporting, and campaigning.
Iran ranks 165 out of 180 countries in Reporters sans Frontieres' World Press Freedom Index. To mark UNESCO's World Press Freedom Day, we highlight a few stories of journalists who have fought hard to bring news, opinion and vital information about human rights to their fellow Iranians, and to those committed to protecting the right to free speech around the world. But there are many more stories to tell — over 50 journalists remain in Iranian prisons today, many of them held in solitary confinement and in dire conditions.
Security agents in Mashhad arrested Hengameh Shahidi on March 9. A reformist journalist, she anticipated her arrest, and had prepared two letters for publication stating that she was being targeted ahead of the Iranian presidential election, which will be held on May 19. One of the letters addresses President Rouhani directly, criticizing him for not living up to his promises to improve human rights in the country, and citing reports that the president had done deals with the Revolutionary Guards in a bid to boost his chances for re-election and try to obtain immunity for his brother, who has faced accusations of corruption.
Shahidi was previously jailed in 2009, along with thousands of other people, in the aftermath of the disputed election that saw Mahmoud Ahmadinejad return to power for a further four years. After serving months in prison without being charged, Shahidi was sentenced to six years in prison. In 2012, she was granted leave from prison based on a medical condition. Since her return to prison, she has been on hunger strike.
Isa Saharkhiz, a prominent journalist in Iran, was released from prison on April 25, but then re-arrested on a new charge just one day later. Authorities informed Saharkhiz that he would have to serve a new one-year sentence for insulting former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the head of Iran’s judiciary.
Saharkhiz. the co-founder of Iran’s Association for the Defense of Press Freedom, has had a long career as a journalist — and has repeatedly been targeted by Iranian authorities for his work. As well as being accused of being a part of an ‘Infiltration network,” he has faced charges of “propaganda against the regime” as well as a range of insult charges.
On March 11, security agents raided Saharkhiz’s hospital room and physically assaulted him. He had been discharged to the hospital because his health had so seriously deteriorated after hunger strikes.
Saharkhiz also spent four years in prison in the aftermath of the 2009 presidential election. During his incarceration, prison guards brutally attacked him and he was forced to spend long periods in solitary confinement.
Ehsan Mazandarani, the former managing editor of the newspaper Farhikhtegan, was re-arrested on March 12 after being released on February 11. A report by the Center for Human Rights in Iran says authorities used unnecessarily violence when arresting him, including using a Taser gun.
He had been serving a sentence for being part of an “infiltration network” and colluding with hostile governments, after an initial arrest in November 2015. While serving his previous sentence, Mazandarani wrote to court officials, demanding specific information regarding the exact date his sentence would end.
During his time in prison, Mazandarani’s health deteriorated due to prolonged periods of being on hunger strike. In June 2016, he suffered a heart attack. After his re-arrest in March, he immediately resumed his hunger strike.