* News outlets have been critical of government
* 2009 vote prompted accusations of rigging, riots
* Authorities mindful of more protests
By Yeganeh Torbati
DUBAI, Jan 28 Iranian authorities have arrested
more than a dozen journalists in the past two days over their
links to "anti-revolutionary" media, Iranian media reported, in
what appeared to be a coordinated crackdown on the press.
With a presidential election five months away, Iran's
clerical leadership appears to be tightening its grip on the
media to avoid a repeat of the widespread protests that erupted
after the disputed election in 2009.
Journalists working for reformist newspapers Arman, Bahar,
Etemaad, Shargh, and the Aseman weekly - and Iran's
economy-focused ILNA labour news agency - were arrested on
Sunday for cooperating with Persian-language
"anti-revolutionary" news outlets, Mehr news agency reported
late on Sunday.
The exact numbers were not known, but several outlets
reported the arrests, with Fars news agency saying around 11
journalists were arrested on Sunday on the orders of the
judiciary. In addition, the opposition Kalame website said a
reporter for Bahar and a journalist for ILNA were detained on
While not calling for outright dissent, the outlets have
reported on an economy struggling under Western sanctions
imposed over Iran's disputed nuclear programme, and often
feature criticism of Iranian government policies.
Shargh was banned for several months in 2012 for publishing
a cartoon deemed insulting to veterans of the Iran-Iraq war,
while ILNA closely follows news of layoffs in Iran's factories -
bad news for the leadership in the run up to June's election.
The economy has taken a battering since the introduction of
U.S. banking sanctions a year ago that virtually severed links
to the global financial system. Iranians have seen the price of
food and goods soar and their spending power slump, especially
on imports that are directly affected by the weakening rial.
Last week, Iran's judiciary spokesman Gholam Hossein
Mohseni-Ejei warned of the threat the Islamic Republic faced
from some of its own journalists.
"Based on information I have from reliable sources,
unfortunately a number of journalists, as well as writing for
the nation's newspapers, work hand-in-hand with Westerners and
anti-revolutionaries," he said at the time.
The Iranian leadership regularly accuses Western governments
of trying to foment social unrest through subversive media
activities but says that such plans will never succeed.
However, the latest crackdown appeared to go further than
just targeting reformist news organisations, with the
conservative website Tabnak also offline on the orders of the
Tehran prosecutor's office, the state body that determines which
websites to filter told the ISNA news agency on Sunday.
Iran is preparing for its first presidential vote since
2009, which opposition candidates, Mirhossein Mousavi and Mehdi
Karoubi, decried as rigged in favour of President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad. They have been under house arrest for nearly two
The government denied vote rigging and said the protests had
been stirred up by Iran's foreign enemies to overthrow the
Islamic Republic's system of government.
Analysts say reformist candidates may be allowed to run for
election if they distance themselves from Mousavi and Karoubi.
But the authorities are mindful of more protests, and
hardliners have warned against the possibility of a second
"sedition", the term officials use for the 2009 demonstrations.
Iran is one of the world's worst jailers of members of the
press, along with Turkey and China, according to the Committee
to Protect Journalists. A CPJ tally in December 2012 said there
were 45 journalists behind bars in Iran.
(Editing by Marcus George and Alison Williams)