Iran has reinforced its position as one of the world’s most repressive countries in terms of press freedom since a huge wave of protests began in reaction to the death, on 16 September 2022, of Mahsa Amini, a student arrested for being “inappropriately dressed”. Iran is now also one of the world’s biggest jailers of journalists.
As the country’s media is largely controlled by the Islamic regime, the main sources of news and information come from media outlets that are based abroad. Journalists and independent media in Iran are constantly persecuted by means of arbitrary arrests and very heavy sentences handed down after grossly unfair trials before revolutionary courts.
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei often accuses the independent media of being manipulated by foreign forces. As the head of the country's main political, military and judicial institutions, he can order the arrests of journalists and sentence them to long prison terms, and even the death penalty.
Article 24 of the constitution guarantees press freedom, but the 1986 press law (amended in 2000 and 2009 to take account of online publications) allows the authorities to ensure that journalists do not “endanger the Islamic Republic”, “do not offend the clergy and the Supreme Leader” and do not “spread false information”.
The target of unprecedented sanctions and plagued by corruption, Iran is in an alarming economic situation that has had a major impact on the media and journalists. Several media outlets have been closed in recent years and around 100 journalists have lost their jobs.
Iranian civil society is dynamic and progressive, thanks, among other things, to the country’s youth and women, who demand more freedom and respect for fundamental rights, including the freedom to be informed. However, tackling subjects related to religion and women’s rights continues to be problematic.
Though the repression against freedom of information was already very strong, with journalists facing arrests, interrogations, imprisonments, surveillance, harassment, and threats, it became much worse since the outbreak of the wave of triggered by Mahsa Amini’s death in police custody. More that 70 journalists, many of them women, were arrested as the authorities stopped at nothing in their efforts to prevent coverage of the protests. Even Iranian journalists based abroad were subjected to pressure ranging from online harassment to death threats.