PRAGUE – RFE/RL’s Persian language Service, Radio Farda, has reported several recent instances of intimidation targeting reporters’ relatives in Iran, despite widespread expectations that the new government of President Hassan Rohani would usher in a period of more moderate politics and ease societal tensions.
In five separate instances in August, relatives were approached, and in some cases interrogated, by agents of Iran’s Intelligence Ministry with the aim of pressuring them to persuade their sons, daughters, and siblings to resign from their jobs. Radio Farda journalists are banned from working in Iran, and RFE/RL President and CEO Kevin Klose called the harassment “censorship by other means.”
“These methods are meant to pressure journalists living and reporting from abroad and are no less heinous than threatening the journalists directly,” Klose said. He added that if the Rohani administration wants to signal a departure from its predecessors, “it can stop these tactics.”
“The [authorities] have been generally polite, but their aim is clear,” said Armand Mostofi, Radio Farda Director. “They seek to silence us. And they will not succeed.”
While attacks on basic rights and openly hostile relations with the West were the norm under former Iranian president Mahmud Ahmadinejad, the continuation of such practices since Rohani’s election in June has caused consternation.
“It is clear that elements of the previous government are still hanging on, and while it will be difficult to implement change inside the government, it can happen if there is sufficient political will,” said Mostofi.
The Committee to Protect Journalists cited harassment of journalists’ families in a blog post in July, and called on Rohani to put an end to it as part of a broader effort to strengthen media freedom in Iran. Along with Radio Farda, BBC, the Voice of America, and other international media employing Iranian journalists abroad have previously reported intimidation of relatives, including during the weeks before the June polls.
Said Klose, “President Rohani can use his position to condemn such practices, investigate them and punish perpetrators. It is still early days, but his response to such methods will be telling.”
Radio Farda , produced in and broadcast from Prague, is a leading source of uncensored information in Iran. Each month more than 2 million users inside the country defy the government by employing proxies to access Radio Farda’s website, which is blocked. Radio Farda is active on social media, with nearly 700,000 Facebook fans.