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 Saturday.
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. HOUSE ARREST 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. 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.