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Journalists arrested in Iran, relatives held hostage in new crackdown

Anti-regime protests: This photo, taken by an individual not employed by the Associated Press and obtained by the AP outside Iran shows Iranian protestors attending an anti-government protest in Tehran, Iran, Monday, February 14, 2011. Eyewitnesses report that sporadic clashes have erupted in central Tehran's Enghelab or Revolution square between security forces and opposition protesters.

Iran has launched a renewed crackdown of the past few days including a wave of arrests of journalists that began on February 14 and cases of harassment of journalists’ families.

The authorities have stepped up cyber-attacks on news websites and disruption of the Internet in a sweeping form of censorship designed to stifle the protest movement and prevent information about demonstrations from circulating. The same methods were used after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed reelection in June 2009 only this time they have been reinforced.

On February 15, intelligence ministry agents attacked the home of Hossein Karoubi, the executive direct of the newspaper Etemad Meli, which has been closed. They broke down the front door and manhandled members of his family. They are still outside the house and are, in effect, holding the family hostage.

At the same time, Ganeh Jaleh, the brother of Sanee Jaleh, one of the demonstrators who was killed in the course of violence targeted against the February 14 protests, was arrested after giving an interview to Voice of America in which he contradicted the government’s claims in the media it controls that his brother was a member of pro-government militia.

Since February 10, the authorities have been reinforcing censorship of all media likely to be used to relay information about the February 14 protests and the violent methods used to disperse them. Paris-based press freedom group Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) said it can confirm that the attacks on news websites and the disruption of mobile phone and Internet networks, first noticed on February 10, are continuing.

Opposition websites such as Jaras, Kalameh and Balatarin (one of the bastions of the online protest movement) and Gooya News, one of the most popular news websites, have been the targets of cyber-attacks that have affected their functionality. Gmail, Google Reader and Yahoo! are now hard to access in several parts of the country.

The telephone answering service of Radio Free Europe’s Farsi-language service, Radio Farda, which records messages from listeners for broadcasting to an audience of about 18 million Iranians, has also been disrupted as a result of attacks. Radio Farda director Arman Mostoufi told RSF that the service was the target of “continual attacks.” Their purpose was obvious, he added, “to prevent the flow of information in a country known for its censorship.”

The latest detainees include Mohammad Hussein Khoshvaght, the head of the Fararu.com website, and Gholam Ali Dehgan, the head of the Aftab News website, who were arrested on February 16. Like Sahamnews.org, a site that supports opposition leader Mehdi Karoubi, Fararu.com was one of first sites to be targeted by cyber-attacks on the morning of February 14.

They were arrested for reporting that the interior ministry had given permission for the February 14 demonstrations at the request of Turkish President Abdullah Gül, who was on an official visit to Iran that day. The authorities also objected to their confirming that their sites had been the target of attacks by hackers. Khoshvaght was director of the foreign press centre, an offshoot of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, during President Mohammad Khatami’s pro-reform government.

Date posted: February 19, 2011 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 116