PARIS, 23 Oct. (IPS) 20 leading European online news sites have rallied to join Reporters Sans Frontieres, or Reporters Without Borders in support of colleagues in Iran as the fifth journalist was arrested on 18 October in a crackdown against the online media.
They are calling for the release of Shahram Rafi’zadeh, Hanif Mazrou’i, Rouzbeh Mir Ebrahimi, Omid Me’marian and Javad Qolam Tamayomi.
The five journalists, as well as Mehdi Derayati, Mas’oud Qoreyshi and Ahmad Vatankhah are accused by the leader-controlled Judiciary of contributing to reformist news websites or having created their own independent weblogs. In the past few months, the regime has also tightened filtering of most internet sites, blocking access to several dozen online publications, political, social or cultural weblogs.
We want to demonstrate our solidarity with our Iranian colleagues, imprisoned simply for doing their jobs
"We want to demonstrate our solidarity with our Iranian colleagues, imprisoned simply for doing their jobs", the media said in a statement, adding, "At a time when the Internet has become one of the main sources of news, protecting online journalists and publications is the key to defending press freedom".
Tens of journalists, lawmakers, scholars, artists, intellectuals and politicians as well as families of imprisoned journalists attended on Wednesday a protest meeting called by the Association of Iranian Professional Journalists (AIPJ) and Iranian Association for de Defence of Journalists (IADJ) to denounce the arrests, the largest since the mass crackdown on Iranian media three years ago.
Ordered by Ayatollah Ali Khameneh’i, the leader of the Islamic Republic that the Paris-based RSF has awarded as “one of the world’s most dangerous predator on freedom of the press”, the Iranian Judiciary shut more than 100 newspapers, weeklies and other publications that had flourished after the first election of Mohammad Khatami as president in May 1979 as well as the arrest of most leading journalists.
The arrests would not stop the free flow of news and information.
“These arrests would not stop the free flow of news and information, but helps rumour mill to play a more important role”, noted Mr. Masha’allah Shamsolva’ezin, the spokesman for the IADJ, while expressing concern for the situation of both the independent press and newsmen.
Mr. Mostafa Tajzadeh, a former Deputy Interior Minister who is now in charge of the reformist internet site Emrooz (Today) also warned that the closing of internet sites and weblogs would lead to the expansion of “nigh letters”, or clandestine publications that, in his view, would be more dangerous than an open press.
"We are living in a country that wanted to become a model of freedom and democracy, but it has become a place were people are jalous of other nations", he added.
As for Mr. Ali Mazrou’i, the Head of the AIPJ and the father of Hanif, “living as a free person and alive has become very difficult” (in Iran), he pointed out, asking why the (Islamic Republic) spends so much money crushing and muzzling the press?”
“We have fought for democracy and freedom of the expression and the result is that now we stand as accused”, he said, as other speakers touched on the appalling situation of students.
"To attract the attention of the authorities to this sad state, 103 journalists and political activists wrote a letter to the leader, but as usual, there was no answer from Mr. Khameneh'i", Mr. Isa Saharkhiz, an outspoken professional journalis told the Persian serive of Germany's State-run Deutsche Welle, adding, "to tell the truth, we didn't expect any answer, since no senor official ever responded to any request".
The crackdown on pro-reform students started after police, revolutionary guards and special security units backed by plainclothes islamist vigilantes stormed students dormitories on the night of 18 July 1999, killing at least one student and wounding and arresting many others, including some who were thrown out of windows three floors under.
As a result, students took to the streets for six consecutive days in the Islamic Republic’s worst anti-regime demonstrations, shut in blood by the revolutionary guards and basij (volunteer) forces.
In recent months, particularly after the ruling conservatives took over the control of the Majles, or parliament, pressures on students and the civil society also increased, targeting mostly women and the youngs.
“In a country where television, radio and newspapers are heavily censored, the Internet is, despite censorship, the only source of independent news and information”, the international press watchdog said in a statement.
Families of the arrested journalists have, in a letter to the Judiciary, asked for explaination in regard of the long time that their relatives are held without trial.
A sopkesman for the Judiciary power has said the detainees have not asked to be defended by lawyers have responded, saying they have not been allowed to meet with their clients.
List of online publications taking part in the campaign:
France - Courrierinternational.com, lefigaro.fr, lemonde.fr, nouvelobs.com, lexpress.fr, telerama.fr, zataz.com
Spain- elpais.es, elmundo.es, abc.es, larazon.es, lavanguardia.es, elperiodico.com, periodistas-es.org, pressnetweb.com,
Germany - dw-world.de, netzeitung.de, politik-digital.de spiegel.de, sueddeutsche.de, telepolis.de, de.internet.com
Italy - internazionale.it, unita.it
UK - indexoncensorship.org