By Shane McGinley
Yeganeh Salehi, a correspondent at The National, was arrested by Tehran authorities on July 22
The editor-in-chief of Abu Dhabi's The National newspaper has called for the release of their reporter who has been detained in Iran for over two weeks.
Yeganeh Salehi, a foreign correspondent at the government-owned newspaper, was arrested by Iranian authorities on July 22, along with her husband Jason Rezaian, an Iranian-American and Tehran correspondent for the Washington Post.
The couple were part of a group of three journalists arrested by Iranian authorities, but it is not known why they were arrested or their current whereabouts.
“Yeganeh is a highly valued foreign correspondent of ours. Her reports from Iran — which at times have been facilitated by the Iranian government — have provided notable insights into the country, helping explain Iran to its neighbours in the Gulf,” The National’s editor-in-chief, Mohammed Al Otaiba, said in a front page article in the newspaper’s Thursday edition.
“We don’t believe they could in any way be construed as anti-Iranian, nor have they dealt with sensitive security matters. We sincerely hope that Yeganeh is being well-treated and that she is released soon. We want her back doing what she does so well: reporting on a country that she loves.”
During a raid on the couple's home, security forces "ransacked their house and confiscated their personal items, including computers, books, and notes," the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, a New York-based human rights organisation, told Reuters.
"We are very worried about them... haven't heard from them in eight days," Fatemeh Talaee, Salehi's mother was quoted as saying. "We have the right to know where they are and why they were detained," she said, speaking by phone from Tehran.
In a video message posted on the Washington Post's website, Mary Rezaian, Rezaian's mother, said there was no indication her son was in any danger when they last spoke two days ago, but expressed worry that her son, who suffers from high blood pressure, does not have access to his regular medication.
“From an early age Jason noticed how Iran was negatively portrayed in the US and world media. He became a journalist to help build bridges of understanding and to share Iran’s rich cultural heritage with the West. His work was not controversial, but an honest record of his encounters with the people and the soul of Iran,” Mrs. Rezaian was quoted as saying.
Iranian officials have confirmed the arrests but on August 6, 2014, Marzieh Afkham, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said: “We have no official information regarding the charges against them.”
On August 4, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, the Spokesperson for the Iranian Judiciary said that Rezaian’s case is in the “investigation phase” and gave no further information.
The United States has called for their release and a senior US official said Washington was using "all appropriate channels" to make its concerns known to Iran.
“There is absolutely no reason for this to occur,” Wendy Sherman, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, said at a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
In its latest posting online, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said media with ties to security and intelligence organs believed to be holding Salehi and Rezaian have begun levelling baseless charges of spying against them.
On August 5, a letter published in the Tasnim website close to the Revolutionary Guards, outlined spying charges against Rezaian and called on the Judiciary to implement “the harshest possible sentence for American spies.”
The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran confirmed that Salehi and Rezaian both have licenses from the Iranian Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance to operate journalistic activities in Iran.
It also reported that their names are not registered in any of the Tehran prisons or in any official records of the judiciary.
Arabian Business understands that UAE officials have been in contact with their Iranian counterparts concerning the matter.
An article published on the front page of Vatan-e Emrooz, a Tehran newspaper close to security-intelligence organisations and entitled “To Whose Tune Did Jason Dance?” also claimed Rezaian was arrested due to his links to Iranians who were arrested for appearing in a video dancing and lip synching to Pharrell Williams' "Happy", imitating the official video of the American pop music hit.
“Jason Rezaian and his team were arrested for his managing and directing the questionable ‘Happy’ video clip in Iran. Rezaian was the first individual who put this video on international display even before it was widely distributed in Iran and seen by people in Tehran,” the cover story alleged.
Six people had previously been arrested and later released over what police called their "obscene" behaviour in the video.
Pharrell Williams himself criticised the arrests. "It's beyond sad these kids were arrested for trying to spread happiness," he tweeted.
The incident has highlighted the struggle between Iran's conservatives and those who hope President Hassan Rouhani, who has eased the country's antagonistic stance with the West, might also relax the Islamic Republic's social norms.
Tehran's police chief, Hossein Sajedinia, said in May he had ordered the arrest of the six youngsters because they had helped create an "obscene video clip that offended the public morals and was released in cyberspace," the ISNA news agency said.
There are at least TWO governments operating simultaneously in Iran - one under Dr. Rouhani and the other(s) operating under the sponsorship of the Leader and his acolytes. The latter's role is to wrongfoot the elected President and his cabinet by creating crises that the former is little able to resolve (compare the period when Mr. Khatami was nominally in charge). Thus the various factions vie with each other while the judiciary and sundry security services in their complicity remind the President where the real power base lies, viz. the unelected guys with guns. Iran's human rights record has deteriorated during the tenure of the Rouhani government with more judicial executions this year than its corresponding period last year. Regrettably failure of the ongoing nuclear negotiations and more punitive sanctions against the Iranian nation are the likely outcomes.