Iran's most prominent reformist daily paper, Etemaad, was closed along with two weekly publications, Irandokht and Sina, a week ago. Since the disputed election in June, Iran has shut eight newspapers and has imprisoned more than 100 journalists and bloggers. At least 65 remain in jail — more than any country has imprisoned since 1996.

Vague charges

At the beginning of February, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) found vague anti-state charges against detained journalists such as “Propagation against the regime” or insulting authorities and disrupting public order. Despite this, detainees have been sentenced to years of prison, lashes and internal exile — as well as lifetime bans on writing and other social and political activities. The CPJ is among media organisations that have launched a campaign to press the government to release imprisoned journalists.

Etemaad, which was in its eighth year with a relatively high circulation of more than 100,000, was one of the most influential publications in Iran, especially among intellectuals. Behrooz Behzadi, Etemaad's Editor-in-Chief, told the Guardian: “The Press Supervisory Board shut down our paper without giving us even a specific reason. It's an absolutely arbitrary decision.” Almost 1,000 employees are to lose their jobs after Etemaad's closure.

Since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became President for the first time in 2005, the press crackdown has accelerated. Mehrdad Rahimi and Kohyar Goodarzi, imprisoned after the election, have been labelled “mohareb” (enemies of God) for their journalism — a heresy charge punishable by death under Iranian law. Last March, Omid Mir Sayafi, an Iranian blogger, committed suicide in the notorious Evin prison when he was sentenced to 30 months for insulting Iran's supreme leader in his blog.

Sense of concern

Masoud Jazayeri, a commander of the Revolutionary Corps, has said that Iranians who work for foreign media, including me, should be sentenced as spies. Whether this becomes law or not, the atmosphere is such that journalists such as myself — I've worked for the Guardian for almost four years — feel a renewed sense of concern about press freedoms in our home country. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010

More In: Comment | Opinion