CPJ Urges Iran to Release Journalists Detained over Covering Protests

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called on Tehran to end its crackdown on journalists and release all arrested since the start of anti-government protests that erupted over the death of a 22 year-old woman in morality police custody.

Mahsa Amini protestsMahsa Amini was detained on September 16 because she was not wearing the hijab in accordance with government standards. She soon died in prison. (Photo: Ideophagous, Wikimedia, License)Mahsa Amini was detained on September 16 because she was not wearing the hijab in accordance with government standards. Thousands hit the streets to protest her death and the country’s dress code.

The government used brutal force against demonstrators, killing over 90 people and arresting over a thousand, including at least 28 journalists.

Several activists and lawyers, including the prominent freedom of speech advocate Hossein Roniaghi, have also been detained this weekend.

“Iranian authorities should be ashamed of themselves for orchestrating this brutal crackdown. They have proved their failure to grasp that suppressing dissenting voices only compounds dissent,” CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator Sherif Mansour said. “Authorities must stop arresting those covering the protests and immediately release those in custody.”

The mass arrests came after authorities severely restricted the internet and blocked news websites and social media, including WhatsApp and Instagram, in order for information about the protests not to reach the outside world.

"By targeting journalists amid a great deal of violence after restricting access to WhatsApp and Instagram, the Iranian authorities are sending a clear message that there must be no coverage of the protests," Reporters Without Borders, a Paris based press freedom body said in a statement.

“We realize perfectly well that overthrowing this regime is our duty and our responsibility and we truly don't want any foreign intervention. Just that we have 24/7, uninterrupted access to the internet so that we can provide uncensored news reports and footage about what is truly going on inside Iran and how the people truly feel about this regime,” Heshmat Alavi, an Iranian activist told OCCRP.

“This will be a major countermeasure against both the regime's state propaganda, and the mainstream media in the West that refuses to acknowledge the Iranian people's utter hatred of this regime and our devotion to overthrow the mullahs,” said Alavi.

Iran has a notorious media freedom record and is a highly dangerous country for journalists. It ranks 178th out of 180 countries on the World Press Freedom Index.

Iran is under all kinds of sanctions, including economic and political and restoring the internet is the right way to support Iranian people, Fatemeh Aman, senior fellow at the Washington based Middle East Institute told OCCRP.

“It is vital that the world can witness what’s going on in the country and stay with the Iranian people through connectivity. The internet can make the regime more accountable and, perhaps, more cautious in their treatment of these young protestors,” she said.

“This is true not just for Iran but in many places that repression and violent crackdown occurs. Iranian people are experiencing an extremely difficult time and they will always remember who helped and who didn’t,” she concluded.