Iran Condemned for Harassment of Media, NGOs and Christians

In light of increasing arrests and harassment of journalists, staff of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and members of religious minorities in Iran, the European Union has formally launched a protest with Iranian authorities.

The complaint was initiated by ambassadors of Netherlands and Great Britain. The two nations jointly released a statement to the Iranian Foreign Ministry condemning the unjust and unreasonable persecution of journalists, NGO workers as well as Christians.

Recently, the Iranian judiciary, with the motive of "protecting the Islamic republic’s religious rights", has been stepping up on its crackdown on the press and has even extended its restrictions to cyberspace.

Until now, six journalists or Internet writers have been arrested and are still being detained. There were another seven who were confined and released, and four writers or activists who have received travel bans.

At least 90 percent of the total population in Iran are Muslim; the proportion of Christians in the country is therefore minimal. Christians, particularly Christian pastors, have recently been reported as being arrested.

The EU has protested against the arrests of Christians and in particular Christian pastors as an "infringement of the freedom of religion or belief".

A statement from the embassy of Netherlands wrote, "The European Union has protested in general the arrest and harassment of journalists, Internet technicians and NGO activists… for expressing their views, and has urged the immediate release of those who are still detained, often in unknown locations."

The ambassadors from Britain and Netherlands drew "attention to the fact that the European Parliament also recently expressed its concern about the human rights situation in Iran and the fact that all 25 member states of the European Union co-sponsored" a resolution on the human rights situation here adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on November 17.

The EU expressed further concern at the recent arrest of Mr Mohammed Reza Aghapour, an Azeri journalist and editor-in-chief of the banned magazine "Asan" and Mr Ensefali Hedayat, a Kurdish journalist, who was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment in April 2004.

The EU urged the release of a Christian pastor, Hamid Pourmand, who was arrested on 9 September and was recently moved to a military prison.

In fact, this is not the first time the EU has engaged Iran on human right issues. Over the past two years of the initiative, the dialogue has continually stalled. Last month Iran rejected the European parliament's criticism as "unreal, biased, hasty and undocumented".