The protests against Iranian authorities is one of the most important news stories today but journalists in the country are arrested and others are not allowed into the country. Iranian authorities have arrested at least 88 journalists since September 2022, when mass protests erupted, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reports. An unprecedented number of women journalists have been detained.
BBC says reporting on the protests is an ongoing challenge for BBC Persian Service journalists, who are not allowed into the country, suffer daily harassment, and whose families back home are persecuted.
The protest started when 22-year old Mahsa Amini died in a hospital in Iran on September 16. She had been arrested by the morality police for not wearing her hijab correctly.
Authorities said she had suffered a heart attack while eyewitnesses, including women arrested together with Amini, said she had been badly beaten by the police and that she died because of police brutality. Her death has led to widespread protests.
Authorities’ attempts to stop the protests have led to violence and a number of deaths.
CPJ reports that authorities have charged nearly all of the arrested journalists with “spreading propaganda against the ruling system” and “colluding and acting against national security,” according to sources familiar with their cases who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal.
“Iranian authorities must drop all charges filed against journalists in retaliation for their coverage of protests in the country and stop handing down harsh prison sentences to members of the press”, CPJ says.
Under the Iranian penal code, convictions for that propaganda offense carry prison terms of up to one year, and the collusion charge can carry up to five years.
CPJ says at least five journalists have received sentences in excess of those legal maximums, including extra prison time, lashes from a whip, bans on working or leaving the country, or mandatory community service.
“Iranian authorities must drop all the dubious charges against journalists detained for covering protests in the country, and should free them immediately and unconditionally,” says Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator.
“By issuing heavy sentences against journalists, in some cases in excess of what the law allows, authorities are showing the lengths they are willing to go to silence the press.”
BBC says reporting on events in Iran is not just a logistical challenge, it also has serious personal ramifications. The harassment it triggers from the Iranian government creates consequences for the lives of the journalists.
In October 2022, the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement naming BBC Persian in a list of individuals and organisations sanctioned for what it called their deliberate actions in support of terrorism, and inciting violence and hate speech and human rights abuses.
“BBC Persian journalists have received online death threats and threats of horrific violence, and thousands of orchestrated abusive comments”, BBC reports.
“Family members in Iran have also reported increased and severe harassment, including being summoned for interrogations and being threatened because their family members continue to work for the BBC.”