Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says dozens of Iranian journalists have been interrogated, threatened, searched, and forced to close social-media accounts since a Ukrainian passenger plane crashed in Tehran last month, killing all 176 people aboard.
At least 21 journalists across Iran have been summoned and questioned by intelligence officials working for the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) or the Intelligence Ministry, RSF said in a statement on February 6.
The Paris-based media freedom watchdog said the journalists had dared to express anger after reporting a “state lie” about the January 8 plane tragedy as the truth.
Iranian journalists are “the twofold victims of a state lie,” said Reza Moini, the head of RSF’s Iran desk.
“The entire world is discovering how the suppression of media freedom has helped to institutionalize lies and serious, repeated human rights violations” in Iran, he added.
The Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) Boeing 737-800 crashed after taking off from Tehran’s primary international airport, with the Iranian authorities initially denying any responsibility for the accident.
But three days after the tragedy, the IRGC admitted the plane had been shot down "unintentionally."
Iran’s January 11 admission led to days of protests in Iranian cities, with demonstrators chanting slogans against Iran’s clerical leadership.
Meanwhile, 80 Iranian journalists issued a joint statement expressing regret that they had helped to spread a “state lie.”
“All newspapers, in coordination with the state radio and TV, and in the absence of any independent investigation, repeated this great lie, and have then been outraged and despised when the truth came to light,” they said.
Intelligence officials have since searched the homes and offices of many journalists, seizing computers, mobile phones, books, documents, and manuscripts,” according to RSF.
None of the journalists have been arrested but some have been warned by their employers of the need to be careful with what they say on social media, RSF said, adding that some have had to close their Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook accounts, or to stop posting on them.
After Iranian security forces used force to disperse protests triggered by Iran’s admission it had downed the Ukrainian plane, the authorities “stepped up their pressure on the media, banning the publication of anything that did not toe the government line,” RSF said.