TEHRAN — Iran’s Intelligence Ministry issued a statement late Wednesday saying it has irrefutable evidence that journalists arrested this week had been illegally working with foreign media.
The statement, first published by the semiofficial Mehr News Agency, said, “The collected data from the detained individuals’ links to the BBC are strong and undisputable in court.”
The ministry went on to say that it had been tracking a network of individuals who worked for the BBC, warning that there would be more arrests in the coming days in its fight against what it called a “psychological war” being waged against Iran by its foreign enemies.
Mohammad Hassan Asafari, a member of the parliament’s national security commission, told the Bahar newspaper Wednesday, “Those who are arrested are not in fact journalists, but traitors who sold out their country disguised as journalists and sent reports to foreign-based Farsi media.”
Although accreditation is required for anyone to be a journalist in Iran, whether for foreign or domestic media, certain media are banned
from operating here because they are viewed as hostile. Those include Voice of America and the BBC’s Farsi-language service.
Last week, Iran’s prosecutor general, Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Ejei, told local news media that he had received information that some journalists had been “working hand-in-hand with Westerners and anti-revolutionaries,” foreshadowing this week’s roundup of domestic reporters.
Some analysts said they think the heightened pressure is intended to intimidate journalists in the run-up to a presidential election scheduled for June.
“It signals that they are concerned about a repeat of what happened after the contested elections in 2009,” Reza Marashi, research director at the National Iranian American Council in Washington, wrote in an e-mail.
Despite the crackdown, two publications that employ journalists who were arrested published editorials Wednesday denouncing the arrests and defending their colleagues.