Iranian President Hassan Rohani has criticized the Islamic republic's hard-line media, suggesting some of these outlets are working as "undercover police" amid a wave of recent arrests by the country's feared Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) that is aimed at cracking down on Western influence.
In a November 8 speech to a media fair in Tehran, Rohani said that, while some Iranian newspapers are consistently targeted by authorities, others enjoy close ties to the country's security services.
"By reading their headlines, you know who will be arrested tomorrow," he said.
At least five journalists have been arrested in Iran in recent days, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, while others have been reportedly summoned and threatened by the IRGC's intelligence unit.
The arrests appear to be a backlash against Iran's landmark nuclear agreement reached with world powers in July, as well as part of hard-liners' efforts to stifle the political atmosphere ahead of national elections early next year.
While Rohani and his ministers have expressed a desire for better ties with the West, hard-liners have made it clear that the deal should not result in a rapprochement with the United States.
The Iranian president's comments on the media follow critical statements he made recently about the string of arrests carried out by the IRGC's intelligence branch.
"We should not arrest people gratuitously, making up cases against them and saying they are a part of an infiltration network," Rohani told a November 4 cabinet meeting.
In his November 8 keynote speech at the Tehran press fair, Rohani called for more transparency in the government's regulation of the media.
"We cannot have security officers be the judge of the press. We need clear media rules and regulations," he said.
He added that "transparent regulations will stop certain people picking up on a word or a sentence in a media outlet and putting their freedom at risk" and that closing down a newspaper should be a last resort, "just as execution is always the last punishment."
Rohani said that it is unfortunate that no Iranian publication has lasted as long as The New York Times or The Times of London.
The IRGC's intelligence branch said on November 3 that it had arrested members of an "infiltration network" with ties to "hostile governments," adding that the arrests followed "months" of surveillance. It did not identify the suspects by name.
In recent weeks, Iranian authorities have also arrested Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese IT expert who had attended a conference in Tehran, and Siamak Namazi, an Iranian-American businessman who was visiting his relatives in the Iranian capital.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and other senior officials have warned recently about alleged U.S. efforts "to infiltrate" the Islamic republic.
Khamenei has called on authorities to remain vigilant about America's "political and cultural" penetration in the wake of the nuclear agreement.