As Iranians prepare to celebrate Norouz, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is calling on Iran’s government to grant pardons to the 21 journalists and citizen-journalists it says are “unjustly” imprisoned in the country.
The 21 men and women, whose “only crime was to do their duty to report the facts,” are preparing to spend the Persian New Year celebration on March 21 behind bars in Iran, instead of at home with their families, the Paris-based media freedom watchdog said in a statement on March 18.
No “security” detainees – the term used by Iranian authorities for prisoners of conscience, including journalists -- have never been granted traditional Norouz pardons, according to RSF.
Reza Moini, the head of RSF’s Iran-Afghanistan desk, said that the 21 journalists “arbitrarily detained, unjustly convicted, and denied their rights” must be freed immediately so that they can spend the Norouz festivities with their families, “from whom they should never have been separated.”
Iran, one of the world’s biggest jailers of journalists, ranked 173rd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.
The group said the past year has been “especially tough” for Iranian journalists because of the coronavirus pandemic and “the censorship imposed on most reporting about the disastrous handling of the crisis and the real figures for infections and deaths.”
It mentioned 54 cases of Iranian journalists being questioned, arrested, or convicted since March 2020, adding that the authorities also “persecute” the families of journalists, sometimes arresting relatives and in some cases even sentencing them to imprisonment.
RSF cited the case of Farangis Mazloom, the mother of imprisoned photojournalist Soheil Arabi. An appeals court earlier this month confirmed Mazloom’s 18-month prison sentence on charges of “meeting and plotting against state security” and “anti-government propaganda.” Arabi was convicted of “insulting the Prophet Muhammad” on Facebook and sentenced to death in 2014.
Earlier in the week, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) urged Iranian authorities to stop prosecuting journalists on “false” charges and allow the press to work freely.
The New York-based group cited reports as saying that on March 14 alone, five newspaper and news agency employees had been convicted on charges of “spreading false news.”