Iran: Reports of an intensifying crackdown

Over the last week, unsettling reports have emerged of the arrests of journalists, activists and cultural figures. It is reported that at least 5 journalists have been arrested by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Unit. The exact number has yet to be confirmed.

According to reports, the journalists have been accused being members of an “infiltration network,” guilty of colluding with hostile Western governments, disrespecting the Supreme Leader, and attempting to overthrow the government.

Those arrested reportedly include journalist and political activist Isa Saharkhiz, Ehsan Mazandarani, managing editor of the newspaper Farhikhtegan, Afarin Chitsaz, a member of Farhikhtegan’s editorial board, and Saman Safarzaei, a member of the editorial board of the Andisheh Pouya. The name of the fifth person is unknown at this time.

These arrests were followed by an unidentified employee of the Revolutionary Guards declaring on state television that they have been working on dismantling a network of journalists working against the national interests.

Other seemingly politically motivated arrests include those of Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese-American information technology expert and Siamak Namazi in mid-September, an Iranian-American consultant who is known for his encouragement of improved relations with the United States in mid-October.

Rouhani made a statement on Wednesday that appeard to be critical of the arrests, yet without mentioning any of them directly.

The arrests and the increased crackdown on media outlets follows Iran’s recent nuclear deal agreement. Some commentators have concluded that this is the result of internal battles between hardliners and moderates, in an attempt to undermine President Rouhani’s post-deal plans. Other commentators have pointed out that, with the nearing parliamentary election in February 2016, which is seen by some as a public referendum on his tenure, this crackdown is a warning signal for the times ahead.