Journalists arrested, relatives held hostage in new crackdown
Reporters Without Borders condemns the government’s renewed crackdown of the past few days including a wave of arrests of journalists that began on 14 February and cases of harassment of journalists’ families.
The authorities have stepped up cyber-attacks on news websites and disruption of the Internet in a sweeping form of censorship designed to stifle the protest movement and prevent information about demonstrations from circulating. The same methods were used after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed reelection in June 2009 only this time they have been reinforced.
On 15 February, intelligence ministry agents attacked the home of Hossein Karoubi, the executive direct of the newspaper Etemad Meli, which has been closed. They broke down the front door and manhandled members of his family. They are still outside the house and are, in effect, holding the family hostage.
At the same time, Ganeh Jaleh, the brother of Sanee Jaleh, one of the demonstrators who was killed in the course of violence targeted against the 14 February protests, was arrested after giving an interview to Voice of America in which he contradicted the government’s claims in the media it controls that his brother was a member of pro-government militia.
Since 10 February, the authorities have been reinforcing censorship of all media likely to be used to relay information about the 14 February protests and the violent methods used to disperse them. Reporters Without Borders can confirm that the attacks on news websites and the disruption of mobile phone and Internet networks, first noticed on 10 February, are continuing (see the release).
Opposition websites such as Jaras, Kalameh and Balatarin (one of the bastions of the online protest movement) and Gooya News, one of the most popular news websites, have been the targets of cyber-attacks that have affected their functionality. Gmail, Google Reader and Yahoo! are now hard to access in several parts of the country.
The telephone answering service of Radio Free Europe’s Farsi-language service, Radio Farda, which records messages from listeners for broadcasting to an audience of about 18 million Iranians, has also been disrupted as a result of attacks.
Radio Farda director Arman Mostoufi told Reporters Without Borders that the service was the target of “continual attacks.” Their purpose was obvious, he added, “to prevent the flow of information in a country known for its censorship.”
The latest detainees include Mohammad Hussein Khoshvaght, the head of the Fararu.com website, and Gholam Ali Dehgan, the head of the Aftab News website, who were arrested on 16 February. Like Sahamnews.org, a site that supports opposition leader Mehdi Karoubi, Fararu.com was one of first sites to be targeted by cyber-attacks on the morning of 14 February.
They were arrested for reporting that the interior ministry had given permission for the 14 February demonstrations at the request of Turkish President Abdullah Gül, who was on an official visit to Iran that day. The authorities also objected to their confirming that their sites had been the target of attacks by hackers.
Khoshvaght was director of the foreign press centre, an offshoot of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, during President Mohammad Khatami’s pro-reform government.