In a rare departure from state custom, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has openly disputed the recent spate of arrests of journalists.
Quoted as saying the arrests were “baseless” and the result of iron-willed members of the Iranian leadership “exaggerating the case” of American infiltration in Iran, Rouhani added the repression against correspondents is the twisted reaction of some extremists who “misuse” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warnings about alleged American influence.
“We shouldn’t detain one or two people, here and there, while exaggerating the case and saying there is a ‘current’ (US) infiltration in Iran,” Rouhani said, quoted by the state-owned newspaper, Iran.
Rouhani’s public remarks come in the wake of the detainment and sentencing of several Iranian journalists, two poets and a filmmaker.
Isa Saharkhiz, a distinguished independent journalist known to be critical of the Iranian leadership, was arrested by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) on charges of propaganda against the regime and insulting Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Similarly, Ehsan Mazandarani of Farikhtegan newspaper, was arrested on vague “security charges.” Mazandarani has been detained in the past for alleged associations with counterrevolutionaries. Little is known of his fate.
Also arrested and charged was film maker Keywan Karimi for insulting sanctities and propaganda against the state; Karimi received a six year sentence and 223 lashes. Poets Fatemeh Ekhtesari and Mehdi Mousavi were condemned to 11.5 years and nine years in jail subsequently, and 99 lashes.
Although Rouhani is a man of influence in Tehran, uttering these remarks require a great deal of courage.
Although Rouhani’s words are not a decisive repudiation of Tehran’s policing tactics, a noble gesture would be for Mr. Rouhani to exercise his considerable clout among the clerics to arrange the release of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, who remains in an Iranian jail on fabricated espionage charges.
[The Guardian] [rferl.org] [Photo courtesy Iranhumanrights.org]