Letter to Iran Consulate General: Iran Should Free the Press

The Hong Kong Journalists Association is outraged by the Iranian Government’s suppression of press freedom and the mass arrest of journalists in the country following widespread demonstrations against the recent presidential election results.

To date more than 30 journalists have been arrested, including Ali Mazroul, head of the Association of Iranian Journalists and Jila Baniyaghoob, winner of the Courage in Journalism Award of the International Women’s Media Foundation and editor-in-chief of the online newspaper Kanoon Zanon Irani (Focus on Iranian Women). Her husband Bahaman Ahamadi Amoee, also a journalist, was detained, too.

A Newsweek staff reporter Maziar Bahari, a Canadian national who has lived in Iran and reported on the country for the past decade, has also been arrested.

These arrests plus the many others previously taken in gives Iran the dubious honour of imprisoning, mainly without trial, the largest number of journalists in the world, according to Reporters Without Borders.

BBC correspondent in Tehran correspondent, Jon Leyne, has been ordered out of the country, as have television crews from Spain and Italy. All other foreign journalists stationed in Iran have also been forbidden to cover “illegal” demonstrations.

To stop media reporting freely is not just unacceptable but also a gross violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights which enshrines every person’s right to freedom of expression. The courts have upheld the principle that journalists carrying press accreditation should be free to operate without restraint at marches, protests and other events that may represent a threat to public order.

With social unrest developing in Iran, it is more important for the media there to report freely. As Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury, Chairman of the Committee on Information in Bangladesh stated in a panel discussion organized by the United Nations in 2003 that “in conflicts and war, the presence of journalists could prevent atrocities.” At the same discussion Abdul Waheed Khan, Assistant Director-Genera of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), spoke of the importance of media in conflict zones: Whenever one journalist was exposed to violence and lost his or her voice, all citizens were deprived of their right to information. It is worrisome that the government suppresses media’s freedom to report.

The Iranian authorities claim “misleading reports” to be the reason for expelling certain media. The HKJA disagrees.  We believe that the suppression of press freedom will not help people know the real situation. To the contrary, it is more desirable for the government to allow media to report freely around the whole country. Let facts bear witness to the truth. With the government telecast news broadcasting one point of view, the free advocates have resorted to using Facebook, twitter and other irrepressible Internet connections to tell the world their stories.

We live in a highly inter-connected world where events in one corner, much less an important one like Iran, affect the rest.  In this world press freedom is indispensable. So is freedom of both journalists and the people.

In this regard the Hong Kong Journalists Association calls on the Iranian Government to immediately release the detained journalists and restore press freedom to the country. We also demand the Iranian government investigates the unjustifiable killings and harassment of journalists during the election process.

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