Iran - Mr. President, the Iranian people are not "the freest in the world" : open letter to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad



    MONTREAL, Sept. 26 /CNW Telbec/ - Reporters Without Borders wrote today
to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about claims he made during his visit to the
United States to attend the annual UN General Assembly. The press freedom
organisation hopes the Islamic Republic's president will not break his promise
to allow human rights organisations to visit Iran.

    "Dear Mr. President,

    Several journalists and representatives of international organisations
including Reporters Without Borders questioned you about the deplorable human
rights situation in Iran when you took part in a video news conference
organised by the National Press Club in New York on 24 September. In response
to criticism, you claimed that the Iranian people were "the freest in the
world" and that these organisations were not familiar with the situation
inside your country because they had never been there.
    Mr. President, the facts are clear and the appalling record of press
freedom violations in your country no longer need any comment. Since your last
visit to the United Nations a year ago, 73 journalists have been arrested and
no fewer than 20 news media have been censored. In a recent joint statement,
more than 170 Iranian journalists complained of a marked deterioration in
press freedom. Iran has for several years been the Middle East's biggest
prison for the press.
    At this very moment, ten journalists are still in jail. They include
Adnan Hassanpour and Abdolvahed Hiva Botimar, who were sentenced to death in
July. As a result of their work for Kurdish and foreign news media, they were
convicted of being spies. We hope you will do everything to prevent their
execution.
    Mr. President, many journalists have been brought before the courts. Most
of them have been charged with "violating national security" just for trying
to report the news to the Iranian people. You claim that the media in Iran are
free to criticise you or your government. The facts prove otherwise.
    Some journalists pay a high price for being outspoken and their most
elementary rights are flouted. This is the case for Said Matinpour of the
weekly Yarpagh, who was arrested at his home in Zanjan on 28 May and was
transferred to Evin prison two days later. He is now in solitary confinement
in Evin's security section 209. No formal charge has been brought against him
although he has been held for more than 100 days, and he has not been allowed
to receive visits from his family or his lawyer.
    This is also the case for Soheil Assefi, a journalist who was arrested on
4 August when he went to a Tehran court in response to a summons. He has been
charged with disseminating "false information liable to disturb public
opinion."
    You referred during the news conference to the large number of newspapers
in Iran. You said: "You know that on a daily basis we have many, many
newspapers or the presence of newspapers in our country, and the number of
those newspapers that are against the government in place right now are
perhaps ten times larger than the newspapers that are pro-government."
Mr. President, these newspapers that you call "opposition" are above all in
the service of the various clans within the ruling elite. They are not free,
open and pluralist.
    According to the secretary-general of the Association of Iranian
Journalists, Badrolssadat Mofidi, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance
recently cancelled the permits of more than 500 news media. Even if Iran has
no bureau for prior censorship, there is a great deal of self-censorship. The
editors of independent publications are often subjected to pressure and
harassment by the intelligence services. Some have even been given lists of
journalists they must not hire.
    Your government still refuses to put an end to the state's monopoly of
broadcast media, and the possession of a satellite dish continues to be
banned.
    The Internet does not escape censorship either. Many websites are
targeted, especially those dealing with politics or religion, but also the
sites of international organisations such as Reporters Without Borders.
Mr. President, the "ten million" Internet users you mentioned during the news
conference only have access to one-sided news and information.
    We would also like to mention the many obstacles that must be faced by
local human rights organisations such as the Human Rights Defence Centre led
by Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi, which has been awaiting a permit from
the interior ministry since its creation in 2002. Ms. Ebadi continues to fight
for press freedom by often defending journalists, as she defended Akbar Ganji.
    Finally, the foreign media encounter many difficulties in visiting Iran
and in operating there. The local correspondents of foreign media are also
subjected to harassment and are often summoned for questioning by the
intelligence services. Reporters Without Borders, for its part, has repeatedly
requested visas to visit Iran in the course of the last 10 years without
success. We hope that the invitations you issued during the news conference to
all the organisations present will not prove to be empty words. We assure you
that we would not fail to take up your invitation.

    Sincerely,

    Robert Ménard
    Secretary-General"

    Reporters Without Borders defends imprisoned journalists and press
freedom throughout the world. It has nine national sections (Austria, Belgium,
Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland). It has
representatives in Bangkok, London, New York, Tokyo and Washington. And it has
more than 120 correspondents worldwide.




For further information:

For further information: Emily Jacquard, Directrice générale, Reporters
Without Borders, (514) 521-4111, Cell: (514) 258-4208, Fax: (514) 521-7771,
rsfcanada@rsf.org

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