Iran steps up arrests of activists and journalists in crackdown on protests

Iran is stepping up arrests of activists and journalists as part of a crackdown on civil society amid anti-regime protests raging across the country, activists say.

Twenty journalists have been detained since protests erupted earlier this month over the death of Mahsa Amini, 22, who was arrested by the country’s notorious morality police, according to the Washington-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Scores of activists and lawyers were also arrested, including prominent freedom of expression activist Hossein Ronaghi, who was arrested over the weekend.

The arrests come on top of strict internet restrictions and the blocking of websites like Instagram and WhatsApp, which campaigners say are designed to prevent details of the protests from reaching the outside world.

“By targeting journalists amidst a slew of violence after restricting access to WhatsApp and Instagram, the Iranian authorities are sending a clear message that there must be no coverage of the protests,” Reporters Without Borders said in a statement.

– ‘Defend forbidden’ –

Ronaghi, who has harshly criticized Iran’s Islamic leadership, said in a video released over the weekend that he initially evaded arrest by fleeing his home when agents picked him up.

But then he was arrested on Saturday when he went to Tehran’s Evin prison to meet prosecutors and was also beaten by security officials, his brother Hassan wrote on Twitter.

His mother told Manoto TV in an interview that Hossein Ronaghi’s leg was broken.

His lawyers, who accompanied him to Evin, were reportedly arrested themselves.

Two other lawyers were also arrested, lawyer Saeid Dehghan wrote on Twitter.

“This means defending protesters is forbidden!” he said.

Security forces searched the home of activist and writer Golrokh Iraee on Monday and arrested her, according to a message on her Twitter account.

Iraee, known for his campaign against stoning sentences in Iran, has spent much of the past decade behind bars.

And activist Majid Tavakoli, who has been jailed repeatedly in Iran in recent years, including after disputed 2009 elections, remains in jail after his arrest in the early hours of Friday morning.

– “We are not sure” –

Activists said two university students in their early 20s who also started writing careers – Banafsheh Kamali and Maedeh Jamal – were also arrested.

Videos posted on social media allegedly showed the moment Jamal was arrested, with a female voice heard screaming for help.

Among the 20 journalists arrested are photojournalist Yalda Moaiery, who gained international recognition for an iconic photo of protests in 2019, and reporter Nilufar Hamedi – who uncovered Amini’s case by going to the hospital where she was in a coma.

Hamedi’s husband wrote on Twitter that Hamedi had said in a call from prison that she was in solitary confinement and did not know anything about the charges against her.

Moaiery is being held in the notorious Qarchak women’s prison outside Tehran, from where she told news website Iran Wire that “we are not safe here” and “the situation is very bad”.

Authorities also arrested five prominent members of the Baha’i religious minority in different cities across the country, said Diane Alai, representative of the Baha’i International Community at the United Nations in Geneva.

The Baha’i – Iran’s largest non-Muslim religious minority but not recognized in the Islamic Republic – had faced a crackdown even before the protests began, with high-ranking figures arrested and homes destroyed.

Activists had accused the Iranian authorities of cracking down even before the protests began. Two of the country’s most renowned filmmakers, Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof, were among those arrested.