Ninety Iranian journalists have signed a statement calling for the release of four of their colleagues arrested a month ago by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Intelligence Organization: Issa Saharkhiz, Ehsan Mazandarani, Saman Safarzaie, and Afarin Chitsaz.
The statement called the accusation of “cooperation with foreign media” against the arrested journalists “baseless and repetitive” and demanded their immediate release.
“Even the President of the Islamic Republic himself [Hassan Rouhani] has said that the arrests were based on ‘trumped-up’ charges,” the statement added. “These arrests, following unfounded accusations published in media affiliated with security and military agencies, are against Iranian and international laws which the Islamic Republic has a responsibility to honor.”
A day after news about the arrest of the four journalists became public on November 2, 2015, an Iranian state television news program aired comments by an “intelligence expert of the Revolutionary Guards” who claimed that the journalists were apprehended for being members of an “infiltration network belonging to the US and UK governments” and had “received money from abroad through money exchangers.”
Iran’s leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, has repeatedly spoken over the last few months of US “plots” aimed at “infiltrating” the Islamic Republic, claims that have been taken up and echoed by hardliners to justify an accelerating crackdown against journalists and reformists in Iran.
President Rouhani reacted to the arrests by saying in a cabinet meeting on November 4, 2015, “We mustn’t pick one or two people from here and there on excuses, in order to fabricate a case for them, and then exaggerate this case in the country and say this line is the ‘line of infiltration’.”
Rouhani also commented on the uncanny correlation between allegations made in ultra-conservative media such as Kayhan and Fars News Agency, and subsequent arrests, stating during a speech at the Iran Press Expo on November 8, 2015, that “We can learn from some publications who will be arrested tomorrow, which [outlet] will be shuttered, and whose reputation will be harmed.”
A conservative member of the Iranian Parliament, Ali Motahhari, also criticized the detention of four journalists, calling them illegal. “Arresting journalists is not the legal business of the Revolutionary Guards Intelligence Organization,” he said. Motahhari also wrote a letter to Minister of Justice Mustafa Pour-Mohammadi and Minister of Intelligence Seyed Mahmoud Alavi on November 23, 2015, requesting an explanation for the arrests.
Meanwhile, on November 10, 2015, Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani expressed optimism that the four journalists would not remain under arrest for long, stating “It seems these friends [the arrested journalists] don’t have a problem. They were told that what they did was wrong and they have accepted it, although some of them said they were not aware [that they were doing anything wrong].”
Nevertheless, all four remain in Evin Prison.
Mahmoud Alizadeh Tabatabaie, a lawyer for one of the journalists, Ehsan Mazandarani, who is the publisher of Farhikhtegan, a reformist daily, told the Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA) that a bail amount had been set but no decision had yet been made by the judiciary to accept bail and release his client.