FILE – Protesters chant slogans during a protest over the death of a woman who was detained by the morality police, in downtown Tehran, Iran, Sept. 21, 2022, in this photo taken by an individual not employed by the Associated Press and obtained by the AP
Iranian and international media rights organizations are calling on Tehran to release a photojournalist who reported on her own arrest while covering protests.
Yalda Moaiery, who has covered conflict and natural disasters in countries including Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan, was detained while documenting unrest in the Iranian capital on Monday.
“If anything happens to me, the regime is responsible,” Moaiery posted on social media.
Mass protests are taking place across Iran over the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman accused of not wearing a hijab properly.
Several protesters have been killed and hundreds more injured as security agents beat protesters, or fired birdshot and metal pellets to disperse crowds, according to the rights organization Amnesty International.
Access to the internet, including social media and messaging platforms such as Instagram and WhatsApp are now largely blocked across Iran. The Associated Press cited the Iranian telecommunications minister saying restrictions may be imposed “due to security issues.”
Security agents detained photojournalist Moaiery in downtown Tehran on Monday. The journalist posted a video to Instagram Stories from what she said was the back of a police van.
In the video, viewed by the media rights group Committee to Protect Journalists before it automatically expired, the journalist said she was beaten and forced into a van with other women from the protests.
The journalist’s family was cited in reports as saying that Moaiery is still detained.
The Iranian mission to the United Nations did not respond to VOA’s email requesting comment.
The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control said Thursday it will sanction members of Iran’s police and senior officials over the death of Amini and for the suppression of protesters and opposition voices.
“Mahsa Amini was a courageous woman whose death in Morality Police custody was yet another act of brutality by the Iranian regime’s security forces against its own people,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement.
“We condemn this unconscionable act in the strongest terms and call on the Iranian government to end its violence against women and its ongoing violent crackdown on free expression and assembly,” the statement added.
International rights organizations have called on Tehran to immediately free photojournalist Moaiery.
“Iranian authorities must understand that they can’t hide the country’s nationwide anti-state protests by jailing journalists,” said CPJ’s Middle East program coordinator Sherif Mansour.
The advocacy organization, the Coalition for Women in Journalism or CFWIJ, expressed concern for Moaiery’s safety in custody and the situation across Iran.
“We urge authorities to let journalists do their jobs,” the CFWIJ said in a statement, adding that Iran should “stop harassing journalists and detaining women over moral laws.”
The CFWIJ says Iran is one of the worst jailers of female journalists.
The country has a dire media freedom record, ranking 178 out of 180 on the World Press Freedom Index, where 1 has the optimum conditions for journalism
Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, which compiles the index, describes Iran as “one of the most repressive [countries] for journalists” with media nearly entirely under control of the regime.
Independent journalists risk arbitrary arrest and lengthy prison terms, and media safety is a core concern, RSF states. Since the 1979 revolution, RSF estimates 1,000 journalists have been arrested or killed, and those in exile risk harassment or their relatives are pressured or detained in retaliation for media coverage.
The Tehran Province Journalists’ Association issued a statement in support of Moaiery, saying she was arrested “while staunchly defending” the rights of journalists to cover newsworthy events.
In a statement, cited by the diaspora news website Iran Wire, the Iranian association reminded authorities of the media’s role in covering daily events.
The presence of journalists and news crews “cannot be used as a pretext for their arrest,” the statement said.
Moaiery’s 20-year career has taken her around the world but her work also focuses on life in Iran, including mass protests in 2019 over rising prices.
The journalist’s portfolio includes photo essays on women serving in the Iranian military and the legacy of Iran’s Supreme Leader Imam Khomeini.