Iranian Journalists Flee, Fearing Retribution for Covering Protests

The New York Times
October 12, 2009

ORONTO — For two months Ehsan Maleki traveled around Iran with a backpack containing his cameras, a few pieces of clothing and his laptop computer, taking pictures of the reformist candidate Mir Hussein Moussavi during the presidential campaign. He did not know that his backpack and his cameras would soon become his only possessions, or that he would be forced to crawl out of the country hiding in a herd of sheep.

Mr. Maleki, 29, is one of dozens of reporters, photographers and bloggers who have either fled Iran or are trying to flee in the aftermath of the disputed June presidential election. Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based organization that promotes press freedom and monitors the safety of journalists, said the number of journalists leaving Iran was the largest since the years after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The wave of departures reflects the journalists’ anxiety over the retribution many of them have faced for reporting on the government’s violent suppression of the post-election protests. As bloody clashes unfolded in the streets of Tehran, the government went to great lengths to restrict the flow of information to the outside world. Foreign journalists were banned, and local reporters and photographers were warned to stay at home.

A number of Iranian journalists defied those orders, disseminating information in phone interviews, on Internet sites and through pictures sent to photo agencies. Now, they say, they are paying the price.

Many journalists in Tehran, including a Newsweek reporter, Maziar Bahari, who is also an independent filmmaker, were among the hundreds of Iranians arrested and jailed. Some are defendants in the mass trials the government is conducting. The wife of one journalist, Ahmad Zeidabadi, said he had been tortured while in prison.

The editors of some opposition blogs, which reported the killings and the mass burial of protesters, have gone into hiding, and their whereabouts are not clear. The homes of some journalists, like Mr. Maleki, have been ransacked.

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