Washington Post: In the first days after Iran's disputed election, journalists covered it openly. Then, as government militias cracked down, they were told to stay in their offices. Now, many are being arrested
The Washington Post
By Tara Bahrampour
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
In the first days after Iran's disputed election, journalists covered it openly. Then, as government militias cracked down, they were told to stay in their offices. Now, many are being arrested — so far, a Canadian Iranian reporter for Newsweek, a Greek reporter for the Washington Times and several dozen Iranian reporters, including a group arrested en masse at their office.
It is unclear why the journalists were arrested or what, if anything, they will be charged with. The detentions could, some experts say, be a scare tactic. Or, as with so much of what is happening in Iran now, they could be the beginning of a new phase in which old rules don't necessarily apply.
Maziar Bahari, 41, a documentary filmmaker who has covered Iran for Newsweek for nearly a decade, was arrested Sunday morning at his mother's house. The magazine has retained a lawyer for him, but no one has been able to ascertain where he is.
The Washington Times yesterday confirmed the arrest of Iason Athanasiadis, a journalist with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting who was covering the election. Friends said he disappeared last week as he prepared to leave Iran. The Iranian government announced his arrest yesterday, and the Greek government is pushing for his release.
Twenty-five employees of Kalemeye Sabz, the official newspaper of presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, were arrested Monday for "illegal activities," and an additional dozen or two Iranian journalists have been detained, according to watchdog groups.
"Journalists have been getting rounded up, a few each day," said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, a spokesman for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, adding that they are hard to count because many people have gone into hiding
According to the CPJ, more than 40 journalists and media staff members have been arrested since the election. Dayem said he believes they are in Tehran's Evin Prison. Others have been detained and released.
About 15 reporters for U.S. news media are still in Iran, including some dual citizens. Most U.S. journalists who were covering the election have left, as their visas expired. The BBC's bureau chief, who lives in Iran, left in recent days at the request of the government. Because it is difficult for Western, and especially American, journalists to get visas to Iran, many who work there for foreign media organizations are dual citizens. Iran, however, treats them as Iranian citizens.
"Dual-citizen journalists often report on subjects the Iranian government considers the most sensitive and endure inconceivable degrees of scrutiny," said Azadeh Moaveni, an Iranian American who has reported from Iran for Time magazine in recent years. "Bahari's journalism these past years has always struck me as textbook objective, which suggests that during this crisis the rules may be changing."
The arrest of Bahari, who holds Iranian and Canadian citizenship, carries unpleasant echoes of the case of Zahra Kazemi, a Canadian Iranian journalist who was arrested in 2003 and died in custody. Since then, other dual nationals have been detained, most often on accusations of espionage, and usually released after several months. The most recent, Iranian American reporter Roxana Saberi, was released last month.
Such arrests tend to garner more publicity than do the arrests of Iranians who have no other citizenship, some of whom are detained for significantly longer.
In the past week, as news media restrictions tightened, ordinary citizens filled the void, posting videos, pictures and written accounts online. In recent days, Iranians say, government forces have targeted people with cameras.
The detention of a journalist presents a delicate situation for editors, who must decide whether to publicize it or try to resolve it quietly. Editors at Newsweek and the Washington Times yesterday stressed the balanced reporting their reporters have done in Iran.
"We don't know about anything he was doing that would have raised Iran's concerns," John Solomon, executive editor of the Washington Times, said of Athanasiadis.
A Tehran resident who said he is a good friend of Athanasiadis said the reporter used to live in Iran and had returned recently to report on the elections.
"We're worried about him, and I don't think he thought he would get arrested," said the friend, who gave only his first name, Farhad, adding that Athanasiadis was preparing to leave the country. "We talked on the phone and said goodbye. But I guess he stayed on."
Bahari's editor, Christopher Dickey, said Bahari, whose partner in England is five months pregnant, had been "treated with respect" during earlier questioning and during his arrest.
"The big risk for Maziar is that his case will be judged not on the basis of Maziar's reporting but on the basis of an idea about him, on the idea of the foreign press" as conspiring against the regime, Dickey said of Bahari, adding that if government authorities read his reporting on the recent protests, "they'd see very quickly how balanced it was."
"We hope this is a kind of 'roundup and release' scenario," he said, "a way of saying to those pushing the edge of the envelope, 'Step back, we're watching you.' "
Correspondent Thomas Erdbrink in Tehran contributed to this report.