A newspaper with a front page of the presidential candidates is seen at a newsstand in Tehran, Iran June 13, 2024.

Iran Arrests Journalists During Presidential Campaign

Sunday, 06/23/2024

An Iranian newspaper has denounced the arrest of four journalists during the presidential election campaign, suggesting that it was orchestrated by "one conservative candidate," further dampening public interest in voting.

In an article published on Saturday, the newspaper singled out Parliament Speaker and presidential candidate Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, detailing how three of the arrested whistleblowers were directly involved in exposing cases pertinent to him.

Experts interviewed by Ham-Mihan daily in Tehran opine that these measures, seemingly intended to silence whistleblowers and bolster Ghalibaf's candidacy, have ironically backfired, as the whistleblowers are well-known figures, making the actions appear more like attempts to suppress dissent.

“In recent years, these detained journalists have disclosed information concerning one of the candidates, which appears to hold validity. In addition, they were arrested during the election period. As a result, it has fueled speculation that the arrests were orchestrated to benefit one of the primary fundamentalist candidates in the elections,” Kambiz Nowrouzi, a lawyer, told Ham-Mihan.

“In my view, this action serves neither the interests of the Judiciary nor those of the candidate they aim to help. Instead, it exacerbates the crisis, prompting questions about why punitive measures are being taken now rather than earlier,” Iranian journalist and political activist Abbas Abdi told Ham-Mihan.

"The failure to address [whistleblowers'] revelations could precipitate a crisis that akin to a last-minute blow significantly undermines the electoral atmosphere," Abdi said.

Meanwhile, Ghalibaf has denied the allegations, explaining in an interview, "These cases have been through various courts, with private plaintiffs involved. I did not personally file complaints against the media."

The individuals detained include journalists and whistleblowers Vahid Ashtari, Yashar Soltani, Saba Azarpeik, and Hadi Kasaeizadeh.

Security forces arrested social media activist and whistleblower Vahid Ashtari to begin serving his jail term shortly after the release of documents implicating Galibaf on Thursday. Ashtari has publicly exposed corruption allegations against Ghalibaf and his associates. In April 2022, Ashtari’s revelations triggered the Layette-gate scandal, prompting calls for Ghalibaf’s resignation and renewed scrutiny of alleged corruption involving his family.

Earlier this month, the judiciary detained journalists and whistleblowers Saba Azarpeik and Yashar Soltani to serve pending sentences.

In 2016, Memari News, led by prominent whistleblower Yashar Soltani, reported that Lavizan Park in Tehran had been closed for several days to host the wedding celebration of Ghalibaf's daughter while he served as mayor. The report detailed how municipal resources were used, including illuminating the park at the expense of local authorities in Tehran's fourth district.

In 2019, Soltani was incarcerated for uncovering financial irregularities within the Tehran Municipality during Ghalibaf's tenure and for disclosing information about the wedding.

The husband of imprisoned journalist Saba Azarpeik alleges that conservative politician Ghalibaf, along with former MP Mohsen Dehnavi, initiated legal action against her.

Hadi Kasaeizadeh, editor-in-chief of Meydan-e Azadi Monthly, was arrested on Friday. He had been accused of “disclosure of particulars surrounding Nika Shakrami's death, a 16-year-old murdered by the Iranian security forces in 2022 amid nationwide protests.

“While the frequent occurrence of journalist arrests has become commonplace in the country's news cycle in recent years, the timing of such arrests on the eve of the presidential election casts a somber shadow over the forthcoming event. It can potentially stir up suspicions and rumors that specific election candidates may be attempting to conceal information or suppress dissenting voices,” Ham-Mihan wrote.

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