A sharp increase in the number of arrests, prosecutions, and imprisonment of independent journalists in Iran shows that the mullahs 'have widened the circle of repression in a bid to crumple any aspirations for change,' Amnesty International said in a new briefing.

Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Program Director at Amnesty International said, “The way journalists are being treated puts everything journalism should stand for at risk in Iran. Anyone deemed critical of the authorities has been at increased risk of arrest and prosecution in recent months, creating an intense climate of fear where voicing any criticism has become a direct road to prison.”

 He added, “The authorities’ zero tolerance for anything other than state-sanctioned ideas and voices means that merely reporting the news can put people at risk of incarceration.”

The report demands that Iran release all journalists held immediately and unconditionally “if they have been detained solely for their peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly.”

Journalists working in the country, both Iranian and foreign, have faced harassment, intimidation, arrest, and imprisonment for doing their job. Other workers in the media industry, such as filmmakers, are also facing repression—such as bans from the judiciary banning them from continuing their work.

“Independent journalism is not a crime. Authorities in Iran must immediately and unconditionally release all those who have been arrested and imprisoned in recent months only for peacefully exercising their legitimate right to freedom of expression, association and assembly,” Sahraoui said.

The report highlighted that repression in Iran has become worse after the disputed presidential election of 2009 and has now reached new highs in the past few months.

The regime continues to rely on the provisions in the Islamic Penal Code which give a loose definition to ‘crimes’ such as “spreading lies”, “spreading propaganda against the system”, and “creating unease in the public mind.”

The report states that these ‘crimes’ make a large number of peaceful activities illegal in the streets of Iran. It is also reported that the Iranian authorities are using threats to journalists, such as unserved prison sentences or denial of medical leave, to intimidate them and to persuade them to not criticize the regime.

“Amnesty International is alarmed that prosecution and prison sentences have been used by the Iranian authorities as a tactic aimed at creating a climate of fear and coercing journalists and media workers into self-censorship.”

Speaking of these provisions, Sahraoui said, “These overly broad legal provisions have in effect been used as a tool to stop media professionals from providing independent news to the world about the social and political situation in Iran.” He added, “Iran’s Judiciary is toying with the law and using drawn-out trials and unserved prison sentences to coerce independent journalists into self-censorship.”

Amnesty International continued its call for the Iranian regime to repeal its repressive laws, “Amnesty International is calling on the authorities to repeal all legislation which curtails freedom of expression, in particular, provisions in the Islamic Penal Code regarding national security which are overly broad and allow the authorities to prosecute and imprison journalists for their peaceful journalistic activities.”

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