۱۳۹۴ آبان ۱۲, سه‌شنبه

My Piece for the ‪‎International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists‬ ‪#‎2ndNovember‬

Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists
02 November 2015 by Nargess Tavassolian
Journalists, free speech campaigners and media workers around the world mark the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists today, November 2. 

Iran is the world’s largest prison for journalists, according to Reporters with Borders. Authorities, including intelligence service agents, systematically harass and regularly raid the houses of independent media workers, accusing them of collusion and threatening national security, as well as spreading propaganda against the state or breaching “Islamic values.” But Iran’s independent journalists do not only face trumped-up charges; the country’s state-run media routinely intimidates and persecutes them too, and because these outlets enjoy complete impunity, this blatant abuse of rights repeatedly goes unpunished.
These unpunished crimes include libel, insult, spreading lies with malicious intent and taking journalists’ relatives hostage.
According to the UN, “over the past decade, more than 700 journalists have been killed [worldwide] for bringing news and information to the public. Worryingly, only one in 10 cases committed against media workers over the past decade has led to a conviction.” Believing that “impunity breeds impunity and feeds into a vicious cycle”, the UN established the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, which is marked on November 2 every year. The day was chosen as a mark of remembrance of the murder of two French journalists in Mali on November 2, 2013 and the UN General Assembly adopted the resolution at its 68th session in 2013. According to the resolution, UN member states are urged to “do their utmost to prevent violence against journalists and media workers, to ensure accountability, bring to justice perpetrators of crimes against journalists and media workers, and ensure that victims have access to appropriate remedies. It further calls upon states to promote a safe and enabling environment for journalists to perform their work independently and without undue interference.”

Libel, Insult and Lies
Iran’s state media have a powerful tool at their disposal, able to disseminate lies and defamatory remarks and launch effective smear campaigns against independent and reformist journalists.
Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) and government-issued newspapers, including Keyhan, Tasnim, Javan and Fars, regularly insult, libel, and spread lies with malicious intent against independent or reformist journalists — all of which are illegal under international human rights law, and also considered crimes under Iran’s own penal code. According to Article 608 of the Iranian Penal Code, “Insulting, such as swearing or using profane language, if not punished based on the haad of malicious accusations, should be punished by flogging up to 74 lashes or a fine.”

Article 697 of the penal code also prohibits libel, and states: “Anyone who through any printed press or any other media falsely accuses someone of an offense or crime should be sentenced to imprisonment from between one month and one year or flogging up to 74 lashes (unless the punishment is specified in haads).”

Article 698 of the penal code regarding the prohibition of spreading lies with malicious intent states, “Anyone who in order to hurt some one else or to disturb public mentality or the officials publishes false information in the form of letter, or complaint or report, or any other press, should be imprisoned from between two months to two years or be given 74 lashes.”
But Iranian state media and the governmental newspapers are guilty of these crimes, and enjoy complete impunity.

The Case of Masih Alinejad

Masih Alinejad has been one of Iranian media’s most direct targets, enduring a campaign of libel, insult and lies. A freelance journalist who has lived in exile since 2009, she has reported extensively on sensitive news about Iran — and about political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, contributing regularly to various Persian media outlets outside Iran.

Although state media has targeted Alinejad regularly for years, when her “My Stealthy Freedom” campaign, originally launched in May 2014, began to command huge international support, Iran’s state media retaliated with hostility, aggression and malice.
In May 2014, IRIB announced that Alinejad had been raped by three men in London after she wandered into the street naked while under the influence of drugs.

In addition, Iranian commentator and TV personality Vahid YaminPour, wrote on social media: "Masih Alinejad is a whore, and not a heretic as some people claim her to be. We shouldn't elevate her to the level of a heretic. She's just trying to compensate for her psychological (and probably financial) needs by recruiting young women and sharing her notoriety with younger women who are still not prostitutes." Alinejad has also been accused of “of being on the payroll of Israel’s Mossad or the Queen of England.”
The My Stealthy Freedom campaign grew out of Alinejad’s Facebook page, where the journalist regularly posted photographs of herself not wearing the Islamic headscarf, which is legally required in Iran. The photographs were taken in public places both in and outside of Iran, and inspired other women to post similar photographs of themselves. As an organic, citizen journalist-led phenomenon, it revealed the frustrations of many Iranian women, and revealed the extent to which the Iranian government and clergy try to control women — and championed women’s resistance to this repression. The My Stealthy Freedom Facebook page has attracted thousands of posts. It has been shared widely and was reported in the international media — and infuriated hardliner media and politicians in Iran.

Following the Iranian media attack against her, Alinejad appointed a lawyer in Iran, Gitti Pourfazel, to take legal action against both the state media and Yaminour, suing them for libel and insult. Unsurprisingly, the case was unsuccessful, and did not lead to the conviction of either the state media or Yaminpour.
But Alinejad’s experience is not an isolated case. In addition to being libeled and insulted in Iranian state media, Iranian journalists routinely face charges of being morally or financially corrupt, spying for foreign governments and conversion to non-Muslim religions such as Bahaism, which can under Iranian law be punishable by death. Particularly at risk are journalists who work with foreign media outlets including the Persian service of the BBC, Voice of America and Radio Free Liberty/Radio Farda. Iran’s state media is guilty of insult, libel and spreading lies with malicious intent — against Iranian journalists in exile, but also against journalists working within the country.  Journalists Siamak Pourzand, Isa Saharkhiz, Marzie Rasouli, Parastoo Dokouhaki, Reyhaneh Tabatabaie, Saba Azarpeik, Serajuddin Mirdamadi, Masoud Bastani, Hengameh Shahidi, Ahmad Zeidabadi, Mahsa Amrabadi, Zhila Bani-yaghoub, Keyvan Mehrgan, Mashallah Shamsolvaezin and Emadeddin Baghi have all been the targets of attacks by Iranian state media.

The Intelligence Services 

Iran’s intelligence services play their part in terrorizing independent journalists and their families. They have arrested, interrogated and even detained the family members of journalists working for BBC Persian, holding them hostage in an attempt to pressure independent media workers to stop covering news and issues of which the government does not approve. Family members are often interrogated at length and issued warnings and threats.
This intimidation has been acknowledged by international media. “In recent months, we have witnessed increased levels of intimidation alongside disturbing new tactics,” BBC Director General Mark Thompson said in February 2012. “This includes an attempt to put pressure on those who work for BBC Persian outside Iran, by targeting family members who still live inside the country.” Thompson described how the sister of a BBC Persian employee was arrested and “held in solitary confinement on unspecified charges at Evin Prison in Tehran.” She was released on bail, but Thompson spoke out against her treatment. “We condemn it in the strongest possible terms,” he said.

In 2006, Iran joined the International Convention Against the Taking of Hostages. According to Article 1 of the Convention, “Any person who seizes or detains and threatens to kill, to injure or to continue to detain another person (hereinafter referred to as a hostage), in order to compel a third party, a state, an international intergovernmental organization, a natural or judicial person or a group of persons to do or abstain from any act as an explicit or implicit condition for the release of the hostage” has committed the offense of hostage-taking.

Despite this, none of these crimes have ever been acknowledged by Iran’s judiciary. In order to prevent violence against journalists and media workers and hold perpetrators of crimes against them to account, the Iranian government must establish an independent judiciary. Moreover, since the Ministry of Intelligence is part of the executive branch, President Hassan Rouhani should also be held responsible for the crimes committed by intelligence agents. Holding the government accountable is the first step in fighting impunity in Iran, and the first step toward protecting the country’s independent journalists. It is a step acknowledged by campaigners and activists — but unfortunately, Iran’s establishment is a long way off acknowledging the importance of such a move.


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