Maziar Bahari must be freed

As Iran’s mullahs continue to crack down on protesters, not to mention their wild-eyed rhetoric about “evil” Britain, they should pause to take note of how their riven country has reached the top of yet another unenviable international league table. “The Islamic Republic of Iran now ranks alongside China as the world’s biggest prison for journalists,” Reporters Without Borders declared this past week.

According to figures compiled by the Paris-based media watchdog, at least 24 journalists and bloggers have so far been detained without charge by the security services in Tehran. They include the acclaimed Iranian journalist, playwright, film-maker and occasional NS contributor Maziar Bahari.

In September 2007, Mr Bahari wrote in these pages about Iran’s feared ministry of intelligence, and quoted one of his government minders as warning him: “We know where you live.” On 22 June this year, a week into the protests over the disputed election, and in an attempt to restrict further coverage of the unrest, the authorities made good their threats. Security officers arrived unannounced at the apartment in Tehran that he shares with his mother, seizing his laptop and several of his films, and then Mr Bahari himself.

His mother has made a simple plea to the Iranian authorities: “I just want Maziar to come home. I just want my son back.” Our demand goes further. The Iranian security services must release at once Mr Bahari and every other journalist or writer – of whatever nationality – being held without charge.

Freedom of speech is a fundamental right, not the plaything of an authoritarian clerical regime. Iran, which claims to be a republic as well as a democracy, would do well to heed the words of the 18th-century British commentator who wrote as “Junius”: “Let it be impressed upon your minds, let it be instilled into your children, that the liberty of the press is the palladium of all the civil, political and religious rights.”

This article first appeared in the 29 June 2009 issue of the New Statesman, The Great Escape