“Censorship reflects a society’s lack of confidence in itself. It is a hallmark of an authoritarian regime.”Potter Stewart, in dissenting opinion in Ginzburg et al v. United States (1965).
The above observation by Stewart couldn’t ring truer than it does with Iran. To an extent it is a platitudinous reference to make, yet the of arrests of US-Iranian journalist Jason Rezaian and his journalist wife, Yeganeh Salehi, as well as a photographer and her partner, indicates a rise in hardliner fears of increasing momentum for change in Iran. What better way to bring under question President Rouhani’s credibility, his ability to foster reform and improve Iran’s international image than to arrest a US journalist without cause, ensuring the full expurgation of his work.
Rezaian is the first American journalist to be arrested since 2009, and it has been under extremely dubious circumstances. Dubious for the most part as he is not your obvious candidate; his writing for the Washington Post focuses on the more nuanced aspects of Iran where he attempted to provide an alternative image of the country to international audiences – he wanted to show the Iran he loved. His writings were on political developments in Tehran but also on social issues, such Iran’s water shortages, and other cultural developments, including Iran’s very promising baseball team. Washington Post reports that when Rezaian was arrested, he had just returned from covering the latest round of negotiations in Vienna over Iran’s nuclear program. Saeed Kamalian Dehghan has pointed out the unsurprising fact that Rezaian wrote for the very newspaper that President Hassan Rouhani has famously published and Op-ed for last year.
The incident casts a light on Iran’s horrendous approach to journalism and its zeal for censorship. Only this week Reporters Without Borders released another report which demonstrated the gravity of the situation, especially for female journalists. The report concludes that Iran is world’s leading jailer of female journalists and netizens showing new waves to blackout Iran’s news sources.
The Guardian rightly reminds us of the country’s track record for press repression under the shah who ran a notoriously repressive regime for years before he was overthrown in 1979. People were granted false hope of a freer Iran under the Islamic revolution, which soon transpired to be a state based on a fallacy of rights. Although a number of attempts have been made to bring about some flicker of hope, all efforts were soon smothered by the judicial arm under the watchful eye of the grand Ayatollah. Censorship and silencing of journalists has been one of Iran’s main methods to maintain the status quo, distorting the distribution of information. This time it also allows hardliners to hinder the nuclear talks – talks that many see as a beam of light against the hawkish policies of Iran’s far right, by bringing some empowerment human rights agitators.
Unfortunately, these arrests also highlight the contradictions in Rouhani’s promises of change and his inability to deliver. These recent arrest, due to their political importance for Iran, will thus become Rouhani’s biggest challenge to prove is his commitment to journalistic and press freedom that he so purports. All the above have been held without charge and it is high time that Rouhani took a firm stance for those who he was elected to protect.