Over the past decade, the Iranian government has enforced a policy of imprisoning both Western and Iranian journalists for allegedly criticizing the ruling regime. A recent study showed that Iran had imprisoned thirty-five journalists in 2013, more than any other country in the world. Some reports claim that the real number of imprisoned journalists in Iran might be as high as sixty-five in 2014.
Washington Post reporter and Iranian-American citizen, Jason Rezaian, was arrested by Iranian authorities on July 22, 2014. Rezaian was formally charged by the Iranian government in December of 2014 after being detained for over four months. The Iranian government has not released why Rezaian and his wife, journalist Yeganeh Salehi, have been detained. Although no official charges against Rezaian and Salehi have been released, government newspapers have reported that the two journalists are enemies of Iran and “American spies.” Rezaian has been the Washington Post’s bureau chief in Tehran since 2012.
Rezaian’s arrest is the latest in the Iranian Government’s pattern of arresting journalists. In October of 2014, Aria Jafari, a photojournalist, was arrested by Iranian authorities for reporting on a string of acid attacks in the country. Additionally, Newsweek correspondent Maziar Bahari was arrested in June of 2009 and tortured by the Iranian government after appearing on the American comedy program “The Daily Show.” Iran has received international criticism for its treatment of journalists from numerous human rights organizations including Amnesty International.
The arrest of journalists as political prisoners may be a violation of Iranian law. The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran guarantees a fair and independent judiciary in Article 156. Article 168 of the constitution states that “political and press offenses will be tried openly and in the presence of a jury, in courts of justice.” If the Iranian government continues arresting journalists and holding them without charges it risks violating its own constitution.
The detention of journalists may be a violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which guarantees the citizens of signatory countries the right to freedom of expression and freedom of ideas. Article 19 states, “[e]veryone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.” Iran signed the treaty in 1975 when the country was known as the Empire of Iran, prior to the 1979 revolution. Yet the Iranian government has never repudiated the treaty or attempted to remove the signature.
Imprisoning journalists without proper judicial proceedings is a way to prevent those journalists from spreading ideas and from reporting on the events in Iran. The Iranian government’s policy of imprisoning journalists raises serious questions of international law and potentially contradicts the country’s own constitution.