Friday, September 28, 2007
Mr. President, the Iranian people are not "the freest in the world" : open letter to Mahmoud AhmadinejadReporters Without Borders wrote today to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about claims he made during his visit to the United States to attend the annual UN General Assembly. The press freedom organisation hopes the Islamic Republic’s president will not break his promise to allow human rights organisations to visit Iran.
"Dear Mr. President,
Several journalists and representatives of international organisations including Reporters Without Borders questioned you about the deplorable human rights situation in Iran when you took part in a video news conference organised by the National Press Club in New York on 24 September. In response to criticism, you claimed that the Iranian people were “the freest in the world” and that these organisations were not familiar with the situation inside your country because they had never been there.
Mr. President, the facts are clear and the appalling record of press freedom violations in your country no longer need any comment. Since your last visit to the United Nations a year ago, 73 journalists have been arrested and no fewer than 20 news media have been censored. In a recent joint statement, more than 170 Iranian journalists complained of a marked deterioration in press freedom. Iran has for several years been the Middle East’s biggest prison for the press.
At this very moment, ten journalists are still in jail. They include Adnan Hassanpour and Abdolvahed Hiva Botimar, who were sentenced to death in July. As a result of their work for Kurdish and foreign news media, they were convicted of being spies. We hope you will do everything to prevent their execution.
Mr. President, many journalists have been brought before the courts. Most of them have been charged with “violating national security” just for trying to report the news to the Iranian people. You claim that the media in Iran are free to criticise you or your government. The facts prove otherwise.
Some journalists pay a high price for being outspoken and their most elementary rights are flouted. This is the case for Said Matinpour of the weekly Yarpagh, who was arrested at his home in Zanjan on 28 May and was transferred to Evin prison two days later. He is now in solitary confinement in Evin’s security section 209. No formal charge has been brought against him although he has been held for more than 100 days, and he has not been allowed to receive visits from his family or his lawyer.
This is also the case for Soheil Assefi, a journalist who was arrested on 4 August when he went to a Tehran court in response to a summons. He has been charged with disseminating “false information liable to disturb public opinion.”
You referred during the news conference to the large number of newspapers in Iran. You said: “You know that on a daily basis we have many, many newspapers or the presence of newspapers in our country, and the number of those newspapers that are against the government in place right now are perhaps ten times larger than the newspapers that are pro-government.” Mr. President, these newspapers that you call “opposition” are above all in the service of the various clans within the ruling elite. They are not free, open and pluralist.
According to the secretary-general of the Association of Iranian Journalists, Badrolssadat Mofidi, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance recently cancelled the permits of more than 500 news media. Even if Iran has no bureau for prior censorship, there is a great deal of self-censorship. The editors of independent publications are often subjected to pressure and harassment by the intelligence services. Some have even been given lists of journalists they must not hire.
Your government still refuses to put an end to the state’s monopoly of broadcast media, and the possession of a satellite dish continues to be banned.
The Internet does not escape censorship either. Many websites are targeted, especially those dealing with politics or religion, but also the sites of international organisations such as Reporters Without Borders. Mr. President, the “ten million” Internet users you mentioned during the news conference only have access to one-sided news and information.
We would also like to mention the many obstacles that must be faced by local human rights organisations such as the Human Rights Defence Centre led by Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi, which has been awaiting a permit from the interior ministry since its creation in 2002. Ms. Ebadi continues to fight for press freedom by often defending journalists, as she defended Akbar Ganji.
Finally, the foreign media encounter many difficulties in visiting Iran and in operating there. The local correspondents of foreign media are also subjected to harassment and are often summoned for questioning by the intelligence services. Reporters Without Borders, for its part, has repeatedly requested visas to visit Iran in the course of the last 10 years without success. We hope that the invitations you issued during the news conference to all the organisations present will not prove to be empty words. We assure you that we would not fail to take up your invitation.