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Media Watchdog Appeals To UN To Protect Journalists

"Newsweek" correspondent Maziar Bahari was detained and held for four months in Iran last year.
The Committee To Protect Journalists (CPJ) says 2009 was the deadliest year for journalists across the globe and a record year for the number of reporters arrested or detained. More than 70 journalists lost their lives in 2009 while on the job.

The international media watchdog, which unveiled its annual survey at United Nations headquarters in New York on February 16, said Iran is carrying out one of the world's most severe crackdowns on journalists, with more than 90 reporters arrested last year. At least 47 of them remain in prison, according to CPJ.

Robert Mahoney, deputy director of CPJ, said the Iranian authorities have become adept at using social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter against the very journalists who rely on them.

"Facebook, which the Iranian government is now using to go after and find dissidents and journalists, mining their data, seeing who their friends are -- they’re turning the technology that should liberate the press against the press," he said.

Maziar Bahari is a "Newsweek" correspondent who was detained in Iran last year and held for four months following the street protests that erupted after the disputed June presidential elections. He said the Iranian authorities are employing new tactics to harass journalists. He noted that a proposal is being mulled to make it a crime for Iranian citizens to work for foreign media.

"The Iranian authorities, especially the Revolutionary Guards, even though they have not passed this law yet, have said they are going to [make it] a crime to work for Persian media outside of Iran," Bahari said. "So, anyone who works for BBC Persian, VOA Persian, or Radio Farda which is the Iranian version of Radio Liberty, can be accused of espionage and can be tried as a spy. And as my interrogator once told me, we all know what the punishment is for a spy -- execution.”

The CPJ's Mahoney said that despite the grim data, activists and organizations like the UN should persistently urge governments to respect freedom of expression. "We do believe that constant advocacy on behalf of journalists, bringing their plight into the public sphere, making sure that no victim of a repressive government remains anonymous -- can help," he said. "And it did help in the case of Maziar [Bahari], who was freed, and with other journalists who have been freed."

Part of the reason, Mahoney said, for CPJ to want affiliation with the United Nations is that CPJ believes the UN mandate is to protect peace and promote human rights. He expressed his hope that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will take an active role in defending the freedom of expression.

"I would like the secretary-general to make a more assertive and firm stand in defense of freedom of expression," Mahoney said. "Freedom of expression matters. It is a prime pillar of democracy."


More than 110,000 people have now watched an amateur video (above) of a member of Iran’s security forces beating up a young man on a Tehran street on February 11, the 31st anniversary of the Iranian Revolution.

RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari spoke with the young Iranian man who posted the video on YouTube. Twenty-three-year old Sam, who lives in Tehran, says he received the video clip via Bluetooth on February 11 and immediately decided to upload it on YouTube for the world to see.

RFE/RL: You didn’t videotape the scene yourself, but it was sent to you. Can you please explain how and by whom?

Sam:
There were tight security measures on February 11, and if anyone looked a bit different, [security forces] would stop that person and ask him whether he or she was filming. They would also check people’s cell phones. There were many Basij militia members everywhere. When I went to Azadi Street, I saw lots of people, but there weren't any [protests]. Basij and police cars were there, too. They stopped me and checked my mobile phone.

On the way back, someone sent me the video clip [of the beating] via Bluetooth. As you can see from the clip, the person who videotaped the scene was not on the street. It looks like it was done from a building. It’s short, though. I think because that person did not want to be identified.

If what the [security forces] are doing -- the use of violence -- is fine, then why are they preventing people from filming it? And if it’s wrong, they why are they doing it?
RFE/RL: Did you watch the video clip right there? What were your first thoughts when you watched it?

Sam:
I had a very bad feeling. First of all, that day was different. I couldn’t tell who was pro-regime and who was not. Then, when I saw the video clip, my head really hurt -- the way that young man was being beaten. People were walking there, but it seemed that no one dared to help him and ask why he was being beaten. It was a horrible scene.

He’s a young man like me. He wasn’t being beaten by a Basij member. It was someone from the police force who was beating him and punching him in the head. Even if that person had done something wrong, they could have arrested him. Why were they punching someone when it wasn’t even clear he had done something wrong?

RFE/RL: When you decided to post it on YouTube, weren't you worried or scared that it might get you into trouble?

Sam:
I didn’t film the scene; someone else did. Whom, I don’t know. I just uploaded it on YouTube from a location that I cannot disclose. I didn’t think about what could happen, but I believe I didn’t do anything wrong. I didn’t expect so many people to watch the video clip.

One think I’d like to mention is that if what the [security forces] are doing -- the use of violence -- is fine, then why are they preventing people from filming it? And if it’s wrong, they why are they doing it?

I personally think it’s very inhumane when the police detain someone in the street and beat him up so harshly. The world must see it.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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