During the Shah’s rule in Iran over 38 years ago, oppression of the media was one of the key demands of the revolution. They wanted to have the freedom of expression, religion and press that was denied by the Shah. The revolution swept Ayatollah Khomeini to power 38 years ago, but the promise of these freedoms was never kept by the incoming regime. In fact, Iran is now one of the biggest prisons of journalists, with a total of 29 journalists and citizen journalists detained.
The persecution of journalists has not stopped, despite changes within the hierarchy of the regime itself. In fact, control of the media is one of the key components to the longevity of the regime. For the first 10 years of the regime’s existence, it was marked by massive arrest and the execution of several journalists, who at the time supported the Shah’s regime. After those official executions, the years since have included many extra-judicial executions to eliminate journalists.
The last 15 years have been marked by a strategy of slow death by long prison sentences and torture. For example, the blogger Sattar Beheshti was tortured to death at the headquarters of the FTA in 2012 for daring to criticize the regime on Facebook. Detained journalists have often put their lives at risk by going on hunger strike in protest against the prison conditions or the deaths of fellow journalists.
Yet the arrests have not stopped and are not limited to just male journalists and editors. Zeniab Karimian, a woman journalist, and Saleh Deldam, a young filmmaker, were arrested on January 23. Since then, their families have had no word as to their fate.
But although there have been plenty of arrests, it is clear that prison is not the only weapon that the Iranian regime is using against the free press. Corporal punishment can often be applied. The penalties that judges can impose include stoning, torture, flogging and death. In 2016, journalist and documentary filmmaker Kaivan Karimi was sentenced to 223 lashes, the journalist Mohammad Reza Fathi ws sentenced to 459 lashes, and Shahrood News website editor Mostafa Sharif was sentenced to 40 lashes.
At the end of January, two websites editors were sentenced to 114 and 40 lashes, although their sentences have yet to be carried out. Najafabad News website journalist Hossein Movahedi received 40 lashes on January 4, after being sentenced for allegedly publishing false information.
Clearly, while the celebrations go on, the journalists who choose to speak out about the abuses of the regime will continue to feel its wrath, despite the promise of a free press in the Revolution.