‘I write what they tell me’: Iranian crackdown on journalists intensifies | Iran

As nationwide protests enter their fourth week in Iran, the government is stepping up its crackdown on activists and journalists. On September 22, Niloofar Hamedi, an Iranian journalist, was arrested after publishing a photo she took of Mahsa Amini’s parents hugging in a Tehran hospital on the day their daughter died.

Amini, 22, died in police custody on September 16 after being arrested for not wearing her hijab properly, sparking protests that later spread across the country.

Mohammad Ali Kamfirouzi, Hamedi’s lawyer, tweeted the news of his client’s arrest and confirmed that she was in solitary confinement at Evin prison, where she remains. Since then, at least 40 journalists have been arrested in Iran, according to a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Citing inside sources, the report said journalists were arrested at their homes and their devices confiscated.

Niloofar Hamedi has been in prison since September 22. Photography: handout

CPJ highlighted the case of Yalda Moaiery, a photojournalist writing on Instagram from a van taking her to prison, who said she was beaten and arrested on September 19 while covering protests in Tehran.

The independent news site IranWire reported that Moaiery described conditions in the Qarchak women’s prison, southeast of Tehran, as “horrendous”, with more than 100 women crammed into a tight space.

“There are only three bathrooms…and the prison authorities prescribe lots of tranquilizers for prisoners,” she said.

Aferin*, a Tehran-based journalist, was raided by authorities two weeks ago. “I haven’t protested or shared a message on my social media since we heard about Jina’s death. [Amini]. The only reason they suspended me is because I liked some posts on Twitter,” Aferin said.

“After my editor warned me, I even deleted my social media name out of fear. But on September 29, a group of plainclothes officers broke into my house and my colleague’s house. They took our cards and our laptops. They even took my phone, which was given to me with my official press card. They took a whole pile of paper, which had nothing but scribbled notes on it. I have a second personal phone and that’s how I found out that they were arresting journalists who were writing about the protests. They didn’t hit me, but broke in with batons. I’m not been out for weeks.

Aferin believes his pro-regime colleagues report those who voice support for the protesters to the authorities. “I do not live at the address listed on my official records. How did they even find me? I’m afraid we’re being watched closely by colleagues. I was discouraged by my family from continuing to work. The days to come are crucial in deciding our destiny.

The latest figures from Iran Human Rights indicate that at least 201 people, including 23 children, have been killed during the protests. Although the government has announced it is investigating civilian deaths, human rights groups say the crackdown has only intensified. Iran International reported last week that the regime has schoolchildren arrested and sent them to “psychological centers” to prevent them from becoming “antisocial characters”.

Despite the action of the authorities, new demonstrations took place on Wednesday across the country. University students, teenagers and shopkeepers protested and businesses were closed in support of the uprising.

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There have been internet blackouts across Iran; restrictions on what Iranians can search online; and interference with social media activity since the protests began. Journalists were prevented from doing their work by their own editors as well as by regime officials.

Reza*, a journalist based in Karaj, northwest of Tehran, was arrested for sharing a post on social media. “I was fired on Monday and sent home. My editor informed me that they were taking this [decision] because I defamed the regime, and therefore defamed my publication. After long discussions, they reinstated me, but I am suspended and expected to stay home and work until further notice – it is a form of house arrest. By removing my access to internal professional applications, [my employer has forced me] work with a limited internet connection.

“I write what they ask me to write. They try to spin stories about how all the news about the protests is fake. I’m in survival mode, so I keep writing what they tell me.

Tehran riot police took Reza’s press card from him during the early days of the protests. The reporter was in town for dinner in an area known as a trouble spot and was beaten by police. He has not spoken to his colleagues and has not been contacted by them since his suspension.

“I have no idea what’s going on at work,” he said. “I was asked to coordinate with just one of my editors, and that was it. Even though they threatened others, I haven’t heard from any of them. They are all scared for their lives.

*Names have been changed to protect individuals.

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