Iranian activist lauds rise of ‘citizen journalism’ in Iran

TEHRAN, Iran — Isa Saharkhiz is a prominent Iranian journalist and one of the founders of the Press Freedom Defense Association in Iran. At the beginning of the presidency of Reformist Mohammad Khatami in 1997, he was in charge of domestic publications within the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, an era which Iranian media experienced unprecedented press freedoms and growth. However, in 1999 there was a backlash by conservatives that resulted in the banning of many newspapers. Saharkhiz eventually resigned as a result of the crackdown.

He later founded a daily, Akhbar-e Eghtesad (Economic News). After the controversial elections of 2009, he was arrested and sentenced to prison. This past September he was released after having served his prison time. In an exclusive interview with Al-Monitor, he talks about the challenges faced by the new administration, how he sees the future of journalism and the importance of civil institutions as the administration focuses on economic growth.

Al-Monitor:  The most recent development is Mehdi Karroubi being returned to his own house — after having been under house arrest in a Ministry of Intelligence safe house — which will evidently improve his condition. Does this mean that Rouhani has managed to convince the other sections of the government to allow him fulfill one of his campaign promises? Do you see this as a victory for his administration?

Saharkhiz:  I believe that Rouhani’s administration has done its part. However, in cases of imprisonment and house arrests, their efforts have been so far unsuccessful. What happened with Karroubi should have happened months ago. There was no reason to remove him from his own house [in the first place] and make a lot of expenses for his family and keep him in a condition that has worsened his illness. I believe that Karroubi’s constant illnesses, especially osteoporosis, which was caused by the lack of exposure to sunlight and surgeries they had to perform on him were the reasons why he was finally moved back to his home. These reasons were more important than a possible political deal between the administration and the judiciary or security organizations.

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