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Watchdog says Iran 'Muzzling' Journalists Ahead Of Parliamentary Elections

Human rights activist and ex-political prisoner Bahareh Hedayat is reportedly among those arrested. (file photo)

The New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) says intelligence agents are summoning Iranian journalists, raiding their homes, and confiscating their equipment in a campaign to silence criticism of state policies ahead of this month’s parliamentary elections.

At least 10 journalists have been targeted by the intelligence arm of the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) over the past two weeks, CHRI said in a statement on February 11.

It said the crackdown was targeting journalists -- and activists -- who maintain active social media accounts. Those targeted include human rights defender Bahareh Hedayat, a former political prisoner who was detained on February 10.

"Muzzling journalists, detaining activists, and disqualifying parliamentary candidates will not silence dissent in Iran, as the recent protests have shown," CHRI Executive Director Hadi Ghaemi said in a statement on February 11.

The hard-line Guardians Council disqualified thousands of candidates from running in the February 21 parliamentary elections, which come in the wake of deadly crackdowns on protests that have erupted across Iran amid rising public dissatisfaction over the country's faltering economy.

More than 100 Iranian cities were rocked by protests in November after the government announced gasoline rationing and price hikes.

Last month, the shooting down of a Ukrainian jetliner by Iran's air defenses also led to days of protests in Iranian cities after authorities first denied any state involvement in the incident.

CHRI quoted an unidentified reporter in Tehran as saying the IRGC is raiding the homes of journalists and confiscating computers, phones, books, writings, and press ID cards. The belongings are not returned "until they appear for questioning to explain" their posts on social media.

"Anything that displeases officials is being considered criminal activity and used to press charges," according to the reporter.

"In some cases, agents have contacted newspaper editors to pressure their reporters to stop using social media to criticize the Islamic republic regarding everything from deaths and detentions during the November 2019 protests to the Ukrainian plane shot down by the IRGC and the upcoming parliamentary elections," the journalist added.

CHRI said dozens of critics of Iranian state policies or officials have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms in the past few years.

At least seven members of the press were prosecuted for doing their jobs last year, according to the group.

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