Iran has escalated its repression of domestic media while simultaneously trying to muzzle scores of Iranian journalists working abroad. The campaign of smears and intimidation comes as the regime – under mounting western pressure to curb its nuclear programme – gears up for presidential elections in June. More than a dozen mostly reformist journalists were detained in raids on the offices of at least four newspapers on Sunday, accused of co-operating with “anti-revolutionary” Persian-language media organisations based overseas. Such arrests in Iran are nothing new, but sweeps against media on this scale are rare. The crackdown went beyond targeting reformist news organisations. A popular conservative news website, Tabnak, was blocked at the weekend. And among those arrested was a correspondent for Iran’s labour news agency, which has reported on layoffs in the country’s factories. Security officials have also intensified the harassment of families in Iran of exiled journalists, in some cases arresting, interrogating and threatening their relatives.
One British-based Iranian journalist said: “They summoned my elderly mother recently and warned her that unless I returned to Iran they’d stop her pension and ruin her life. No matter how far you are from Iran, you’re never safe.”
The regime is also using a new tactic. Its cyber-activists have set up fake Facebook accounts and blogs in the names of Iranians working for the BBC’s Persian service in London. In these, the supposed journalists damn themselves, mostly by admitting to leading sexually promiscuous lifestyles in England or working for MI6. The fabrications are then recycled by Iranian state media in an attempt to discredit BBC Persian’s presenters and reporters.