Iranian activists dismissed the country’s foreign minister as a political “Pinocchio” after he said in a U.S. television interview that the Islamic Republic doesn’t imprison journalists or dissidents over their views.
“We don’t jail people for their opinions,” Mohammad Javad Zarif said on the Charlie Rose show on PBS on Wednesday when asked about the decision to put on trial a Washington Post reporter based in Tehran. “But people who commit crimes, who violate the laws of a country, cannot hide behind being a journalist or being a political activist.”
The reporter in question, American citizen Jason Rezaian, has been in detention for more than nine months. The newspaper reported on April 20 that Rezaian is being charged with espionage and called for him to be freed. President Barack Obama has described his custody as unjust.
Iranians who have spent time in prison for expressing opinions critical of the clerical regime took to Twitter and Facebook to mock Zarif. Images of the minister with an elongated wooden nose quickly appeared, a reference to the fictional children’s character whose nose grew every time he lied.
“Mr @JZarif is, unfortunately, lying,” said Maziar Bahari, an Iranian journalist and film maker who was jailed for 118 days in 2009 after he participated in a satirical interview on The Daily Show following a disputed presidential election. “Many innocent people are in prison in Iran just for being a journalist or an activist.”
Bahari’s imprisonment became the subject of the movie “Rosewater,” directed by Jon Stewart. He now lives in the U.K.
Two years into a term that has focused on removing economic sanctions through a nuclear deal with the world powers, President Hassan Rouhani has failed to deliver on his promise to improve human rights and release political prisoners.
Iran remains one of the world’s five biggest jailers of journalists, according to Reporters Without Borders, a non-profit organization that monitors press freedom. It said on April 10 that 46 journalists and Internet activists were in prison after “unfair trials and held in inhuman and degrading conditions.”
Former presidential candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karubi, who led the protest movement that challenged the results of the 2009 election, remain under house arrest, their release hindered by a judiciary dominated by hardline opponents of Rouhani.
In a 2014 report, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, cited concerns that draft laws would further undermine freedom of expression and association, and further discriminate against women. He acknowledged though a greater government willingness to discuss a range of alleged abuses.
Zarif’s interview, which was broadcast on Thursday on Bloomberg TV, has reignited the debate.
“Mr. Zarif, for my writings and interviews as a journalist for lawful newspapers, I was sentenced to 7 years and 4 months and 32 lashes,” Bahman Ahmadi Amouee wrote on his Facebook account. Amouee is an Iranian journalist who finished his sentence last year after being convicted on security charges. “Rouhani and his foreign minister tell lies,” he said.