At least two more journalists have been arrested by Iranian authorities, bringing to 17 the number of journalists caught in the newest crackdown against the Iranian press, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on authorities to immediately halt their campaign against critical news media in the run-up to the presidential elections in June.
Plainclothes officers arrested Fatemeh Sagharchi, editor for the reformist news website Jamaran, on January 26, and Reihaneh Tabatabie, reporter for the daily Bahar, on January 31, according to news reports. The arrests followed the detention of at least 14 other journalists working for reformist news outlets on January 26 and 27, and another on January 30, news reports said.
All of the journalists are being held without charge in Wards 209 and 240 of the Iranian Intelligence Ministry, according to news reports. The Intelligence Ministry uses these wards to detain individuals they deem a security threat without lodging formal charges against them.
Of the journalists who were swept up in the late-January crackdown, at least two have been released, according to news reports. Motahareh Shafiee, reporter for the daily reformist paper Arman, was released for medical reasons on January 28, and Ali Dehghan, economics editor for Bahar, was freed on February 6.
The Iranian Intelligence Ministry issued a statement on Tuesday announcing an ongoing investigation into the connection between local journalists and the BBC. The ministry accused the BBC of seeking to undermine the state and threatened further arrests. CPJ believes the arrests are an attempt to censor and intimidate reformist voices before the presidential elections in June.
"These arrests are an attempt to silence and intimidate critical voices before the presidential elections in June," said Sherif Mansour, CPJ's Middle East and North Africa Coordinator. "Iranian authorities should halt this campaign of fear, which harms the country's own citizens most of all."
Senior officials from the United Nations released a joint statement in response to the crackdown in which they called for the immediate release of the journalists. They said the arrests were a "flagrant violation of Iran's obligations under international human rights law."
Iran has maintained a revolving-door policy for imprisoning journalists, freeing some detainees on furloughs even as they make new arrests. In 2012, CPJ ranked the country the world's second-worst jailer of journalists with 45 journalists imprisoned in reprisal for their work. If the current trend continues, Iran will outpace Turkey to become the world's leading jailer of journalists.