By Niloufar Rostami
November 10, 2020
Journalist Masoud Kazemi says that security agents continue to harass him following his release from prison, despite the fact that he has been adhering to a ban on journalistic activities.
Although Kazemi, the former editor of the monthly Seday-e Parsi, has not resumed professional journalism work due to the ban, he did go on to Twitter on November 7. “Eight months have passed since my release,” he wrote. “Only God knows what happened to me during this period. [I am] not allowed to work and … I have not made any political comments and I have not been on Twitter. What does this security agency want from an unemployed and silenced journalist? I suffocated, isn’t that enough? Is it too much to ask to just leave us alone?” He did not specify which agency was harassing him, or the nature of the harassment.
Kazemi was granted leave from Evin Prison on February 26, 2020, following the outbreak of coronavirus. He then received an official notice of release on April 20. He was arrested on May 22, 2019 and was sentenced by Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court to two years in prison, a two-year ban on working in journalism, and a ban from leaving the country.
A journalist working for one of the country’s official newspapers, who asked not to be named, has reported that the Revolutionary Guards have recently been applying extra pressure on journalists in an attempt to make them cooperate with the Guards.
According to the reporter, if a journalist under pressure accepts the offer to cooperate with the Guards, the journalist will be allowed to continue his or her work for media agencies or newspapers. “Cooperation” amounts to supplying information to Guards’ security agents about their colleagues, their work environment and activities, and what opinions their peers have on key national affairs. “They want journalists to meet with them in public on a monthly or weekly basis and give them information. In fact, they want them to spy on their colleagues and on the place where they work.”
For years now, the Ministry of Intelligence and the Revolutionary Guards Intelligence Organization have both summoned journalists for questioning on a regular basis. Among those harassed was Parnaz (Nazi) Azima, a translator and journalist for Radio Farda, whose passport was confiscated at Tehran’s Mehrabad airport in February 2008 after arriving in Iran to visit her ailing mother. She said after her release that intelligence officials had urged her to cooperate with them.
At the time, Radio Farda announced in a statement that Ministry of Intelligence agents had interrogated Azima and pressured her to spy on colleagues during her previous visit to Iran in the spring of 2007. She refused. After her passport was confiscated and she was banned from leaving the country, Azima fled illegally and has not returned to Iran since.
Accused of Spying
Although security agencies regularly pressure journalists to spy for them, when they refuse, the agents then often accuse them of espionage anyway, often charging them with the crime. “More than 200 journalists in Iran have been accused of espionage or collaborating with hostile states in recent years,” Reza Moini, head of the Reporters Without Borders’ Iran bureau, told IranWire’s affiliate site Journalism Is Not a Crime in May 2020. “According to the available files, no court has been able to prove the espionage charge for any of these detained journalists.”
Since April 2019, many journalists in Tehran and other cities have been summoned, interrogated and arrested. Four occasions stand out: Two journalists were arrested during the International Labor Day protests on May 1, 2019, then others during the nationwide protests in November 2019, and again after the downing of the Ukrainian International Airlines plane in January 2020. Finally, there were further arrests as journalists began reporting on the outbreak of coronavirus in late February 2020, which has continued throughout the year.
As well as Kazemi, some of the journalists who have been pressured, arrested and sentenced during this period are listed below. This is not a complete or exhaustive list.
Hoda Karimi Sadr
Khosro Sadeghi Boroujeni
Silent But Not Safe
Some of these journalists and photographers, such as Marzieh Amiri and Noushin Jafari, have not been active on social media since their release from detention, opting for silence for fear of repeated harassment.
But Masoud Kazemi’s recent tweet highlights that even when journalists are silenced, this does not necessarily guarantee their safety. In reality, they are forced to pay the price for their profession until the security agencies decide to leave them alone.
Kazemi was charged with “spreading lies,” “insulting the leadership,” and “insulting the authorities” in his writing. Originally he faced four years and six months in prison, but a Court of Appeals trial ruled that only two years of the sentence was applicable.
The judge in the original case, Judge Mohammad Moghiseh, did not allow Kazemi’s lawyer, Ali Mojtahedzadeh, to represent or defend him, and he swore at him and insulted him during the trial, ordering him to remain silent. Mojtahedzadeh confirmed that Moghiseh had cursed at Kazemi several times during the trial.
Now, almost nine months after his release from prison, he is still enduring pressure from a security agency.
In his latest report on the situation in Iran published in August 2020, Javid Rahman, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, criticized authorities’ continued violation of the right to freedom of expression and the ongoing pressure on journalists in Iran.
According to the latest Reporters Without Borders (RSF) freedom index, the Islamic Republic ranks 173 out of 180 countries when it comes to media freedom.
“The reality is that since 2002, when we started publishing this ranking, Iran has always been among the last 10 countries on the list,” says RSF’s Reza Moini. “Also, during these years — that is, from 18 years ago until now — Iran has not made any significant progress in relation to the criteria that we use for this ranking.”