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1979 - Journalists Didn't Fear Torture and Arrest

Iran -- A young boy on a tower installing a green flag and Khomeini’s portrait, 1979
Iran -- A young boy on a tower installing a green flag and Khomeini’s portrait, 1979
On the eve of the 31st anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, the number of imprisoned journalists is rapidly rising. Reporters without Borders, the Paris-based media watchdog group, said in a statement this week that with dozens of Iranian journalists and bloggers in jail, Iran ranks among the world's biggest prisons for journalists.

The long line of the imprisoned journalists will continue to grow while there is basically no independent media in the country, radio and television are state-run, and the few newspapers which still exist work under extreme pressure.

Thirty-one years later, some journalists recall their experience during the hectic months before the revolution, saying that although there were some red lines dictating what they could and couldn’t cover in the country, what journalists are facing today in Iran is nothing compared with those days. Nooshabe Amiri, an Iranian journalist now living in France, told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that despite the strikes and opposition in their Kayhan newspaper office before the Islamic revolution, journalists didn’t fear being arrested, tortured, or losing their jobs. However, today in Iran, even those journalists who are already jobless and can’t afford living are getting arrested. They are frequently accused of acting against national security or even spying for Western countries.

The Iranian government has invited a number of foreign journalists to Tehran to cover the anniversary events on February 11. But it's important to remember that last June, Iranian authorities banned foreign journalists from covering the mass protests that broke out following the country's disputed presidential election.

The number of Iranian journalists in exile is rising – fearing arrest, many have escaped from Iran since June, fleeing to neighboring countries like Turkey and Iraq. They have written an open letter to foreign journalists who may be in Iran for the anniversary, reminding them that they represent their fellow Iranian journalists, who are either in prison or living in exile. They wrote,“We are providing you the names of Iranian journalists who are now in prison, based on the list prepared by Reporters without Borders and request that you search for them and find them. Ask them and their prison wardens why are they in prison.”

When asked by RFE/RL about the public reaction to this open letter, Amiri said the reaction was surprising. "Some French media such as TV5 and France24, together with newspapers, published the letter," she said, adding that some Lebanese journalists and the L.A. Times also voiced support. But what she thinks is more interesting is the fact that many of the journalists invited to Iran are not very well-known. “The famous foreign journalists who were willing to go to Tehran were not granted visas”, Amiri said.

Written by colleagues of Radio Farda, RFE/RL's Persian language service.