June 13, 2013 / 2:00 PM / 6 years ago

Rights groups criticise Iran for pre-election harassment

DUBAI, June 13 (Reuters) - Human rights groups have criticised Iran for curbing dissidents and journalists before Friday’s presidential poll, the first since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed re-election ignited popular fury in 2009.

From the disqualification of high-profile candidates to controls on campaigning and televised debates, the authorities have done all they can to prevent any repeat of the unrest.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is thought to want a loyal conservative president to replace the fiery Ahmadinejad and forestall any further challenges to his authority, which took a battering during the 2009 protests.

Security measures have included arbitrary arrests of journalists and activists in the run-up to the election, with reformists - those who advocate greater social and political freedoms - bearing the brunt, rights groups said.

“The Iranian regime won’t even tolerate the political activities allowed by its own laws, not even by those people approved by the selective Guardian Council,” said Hadi Ghaemi, of the New York-based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

Iranian officials dispute accusations of human rights abuses and say they are politically motivated.

Reporters Without Borders has documented the arrest of two journalists working for reformist newspapers since June 4 which it says demonstrates “Iran’s government harassment of Iranian journalists in the final days before the ... election”.

The Paris-based group also criticised Iran for not issuing more visas to foreign journalists to report on the vote. Those who were allowed in have been “prevented from moving about the capital freely” and “banned from covering meetings of candidates supported by reformers”, it said.

Reuters journalists were not issued visas to cover the election.

Dozens of those arrested during the unrest in 2009 remain behind bars. Opposition leaders Mirhossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi have been under house arrest for more than two years.

The U.S.-based Iran Human Rights Documentation Center said a local campaign office in Shiraz of the only moderate candidate, Hassan Rohani, was raided on Sunday, with several organisers being summoned by security agencies.

Two Tehran-based reformist activists were arrested in early June and their whereabouts remain unknown, it said.

Rights groups also said Internet speeds and access had slowed markedly in Iran in recent weeks. In May the opposition website Kaleme reported that accessing the Web had become impossible in some parts of the capital - preventing dissidents from mustering protests online as they did after the 2009 vote.

Iran has arrested more than 25 journalists this year, some of whom were later released, rights groups said. Reporters Without Borders said 54 journalists and activists remain behind bars.

“The escalation in repression is an outrageous attempt by the Iranian authorities to silence critics ahead of the presidential election,” said Philip Luther of London-based Amnesty International.

“The surge in recent violations underlines Iran’s continued and brazen flouting of human rights standards.” (Editing by Jon Hemming)

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