Press in One of the World’s Largest Prisons for Journalists
Freedom of press and freedom of speech are among the most important pillars of any democracy. They help expose and amend politicians’ errors. On the contrary, totalitarian regimes are afraid of such forms of freedom as they simultaneously improve public awareness as they increase their level of expectations.
There are two chapters of Press Law in Iran dedicated to rights and importance of the press in improving public awareness, but other chapters of the same law make it possible to crack down on journalists as a routine and legal practice.
Failed dictatorships with no intentions to reform or improve, gradually lose popular support, so they rely on force and coercion to continue their dominance.
This is where freedom of press and speech become a major area of conflict between the rulers and the people. The powerful tries to shut down the independent press and set up other media outlets with a popular look to feed the public what they deem appropriate.
Such press is run by figures close to the government and step by step they take up the whole national media scene. The independent press undergoes enormous pressure until they either close down business or submit to self-censorship. This form of censorship extends from political news to the coverage of social problems. For example, they try not to put out any piece critical of widespread poverty as it would be crossing some red lines.
The institutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran which oversee press for the violation of red lines allow some minor level of criticism as long as they remain within the uncontroversial area. Such criticism is more of a nagging nature, with repeated lines which inject the delusion of freedom of speech to the society.
During Khatami’s presidency in the late 1990s, the number of press increased significantly. However, later by order of the supreme leader, the judiciary took the responsibility of overseeing press. Soon after they shut down newspapers one after another. In an instance, they close down four popular weekly magazines in Sanandaj, Western Iran in a week, and tens of journalists were arrested and hundreds more lost their jobs.
Hundreds of journalists have been arrested on charges totally unrelated to their work, been tortured and sentenced to prison in Iran only in the last few years. Security forces usually raid their houses, confiscate their laptops and personal belongings to trace their connection with activists or journalists abroad so that they can be easily charged with espionage.
The Iranian regime has not limited its attack on freedom of the press to within its borders. Iran is trying to control the connection of journalists with foreign media outlets and constantly interrupts the passage of Iranian news to the international media.
Iran is beside Turkey, China, Syria and Vietnam among the largest prisons for journalists in the world. This reality annually forces several journalists to leave the country to save their lives. However, it is upsetting that Iranian officials frequent international conferences and claim there is freedom of the press in Iran and there is no one in prison for expressing their opinion.