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As the March 2012 Iranian parliamentary elections edge closer, authorities have begun to crack down on press freedom. In a new wave of arrests over recent weeks, at least three prominent journalists have been detained.
Blogger and women’s rights activist Parastou Dokouhaki was arrested in Tehran on Sunday, after security agents raided her home, confiscated her computer and personal effects, and detained her. It is believed that the journalist, who used to work for a reformist feminist magazine which was shut down in 2008, has been charged with “propaganda against the state.”
Dokouhaki, a media studies graduate from London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, is well known in Iran for her blog Zan-Nehvesht, and has, in the past, been an active campaigner.
Dokouhaki has recently been working as a researcher, having taken a step back from politics to deal with the death of her father.
Her former teacher, Annabelle Sreberny, Professor of Global Media and Communications at SOAS explained that Dokouhaki had been focusing on her future studies, and considering undertaking a PhD. Sreberny said:
“She was not politically active. But of course one of the problems with the Islamic republic is that almost anything can be deemed political on a whim.”
Sreberny added that, though Dokouhaki is charged with “propaganda against the state,” it is unclear why she was targeted, suggesting that “political game playing” had led to a degree of randomness with regards to political arrests.
Sreberny was unsure if these recent arrests were related to a new crackdown in the run up to the elections: “You could say that the campaign of fear has been active since the 2009 election, and this is just part of that long and hard period. There’s been a campaign of fear and an atmosphere of fear since Ahmadinejad was elected, and since the 2009 elections, so this is a long and difficult period for Iranians. I think this is just the continuation of that, but whether it’s becoming more extreme or not is a judgement call.”
Speaking of imprisoned journalists, bloggers, film-makers and photographers Sreberny added: “Iran is a regime which will clamp down on all forms of legitimate free speech if it feels nervous and anxious about its status and of course at the moment it does. They are tools caught up in a much bigger political conflict between different parts of the regime and I think there’s a great deal of randomness here. Almost any blogger, journalist or woman who’s ever held a pamphlet could be accused of this terribly open, vague, and almost impossible to prove charge.”
Freelance journalist and blogger Marzieh Rasouli, who writes mainly on music and literature for art and cultural publications, was arrested on Tuesday, but reasons for her arrest remain unclear.
Mehrad Vaezinejad, a Middle East affairs analyst, and close friend of Rasouli, explained that she had little interest in politics, and had recently had her passport returned, after it was confiscated for no apparent reason, last year. Vaezinejad believes the arrest may be a preventative measure:
“This is part of a broader campaign, getting closer to the parliamentary elections in March. Both Mazier and Parastou have popular blogs, and they have many, many friends and networks that the authorities are afraid of. It could be these arrests are mostly a pre-emptive action, not that these people have done anything, but maybe to make them afraid, to make sure that they wouldn’t do anything at all in the coming months.”
Vaezinejad believes the authorities sense a political crisis is in the making: “That’s why I think they are acting pre-emptively, and creating a campaign of fear, if you can call it so, so that people who might, even if they are not active now, have the potential to become involved later on, they want to neutralise them.”
Vaezinejad suggested that both Rasouli and Dokouhaki may have been arrested because they had friends outside Iran who worked for media organisations such as Radio Free Europe and the BBC, “the kind of media that the republic considers to be enemies, or mouthpieces for enemies.”
On Wednesday, photo-journalist Sahamedin Bourghani was also arrested, and added to the list of a dozen journalists who have been sent to prison in Iran in recent weeks.
Last week Reporters Without Borders raised concerns over the situation of Iranian journalists in a letter to UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay. The letter called for her immediate intervention on behalf of Iran’s persecuted media activists.
In December, Iranian military, police and security forces announced their “readiness” to deal with unrest on election day.
Thanks to Women Living Under Muslim Laws for their assistance with this piece
Two journalists have been arrested in Iran following a new crackdown on journalists and women’s rights activists. Blogger and activist Parastou Dokouhaki, was arrested on Sunday, while journalist Marzieh Rasouli was arrested on Tuesday. Dokouhaki, who used to work for feminist magazine, was arrested after security agents entered her home, confiscated her computer and personal effects, and detained her. She is charged with “propaganda against the state”. Rasouli, who has written for a number of Reformist and independent publications, is charged with acts against national security.