Journalism's deepest, most honest contributions inevitably spring from on-the-ground reporting, unencumbered by policy agendas in Washington, London or other foreign capitals. That's what epitomizes the work of my friend and colleague, Iason Athanasiadis, and it's why his detention by Iranian authorities, on June 17 when trying to board a flight out of Iran, is so troubling.
Iason, who has written for the Christian Science Monitor, Los Angeles Times, and publications across Europe and the Middle East, comes from that breed of journalist in pursuit of something beyond just "the story." To work in Iran, he learned Farsi; to understand its people, he lived with them for three years. His work, as a writer and photojournalist, reflects deep empathy with the Iranian people, an understanding of their historical legacy, and an analysis of the changes swirling around them. Those values lend an independence and credibility to Iason's work that allow him, on the one hand, to produce the revealing photo essay, "Children of the Revolution," which captures the hopes of a new generation of Iranians; and on the other, to invoke, in his writing on the nation's history, "Britain's imperialist past and expert meddling in Iran's internal affairs," which "has left most ordinary Iranians nursing a distrust that endures..."
Iason is not being held by the Iranians because of his critique of the history of Western interference in Iran. Rather, his detention is part a pattern of arrests and detentions of foreign reporters and Iranians working for Western news agencies -- journalists who were invited to document historic elections, and whose work in reporting the troubling aftermath was suddenly unwelcome. On June 19, a week after the elections, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, accused the "evil" foreign media of agitation and helping foment unrest.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, which has taken up Iason's case, along with Harvard's Nieman Foundation for Journalism (where Iason was a fellow last year), Reporters Without Borders, and Amnesty International, have expressed repeated concerns about what Amnesty calls "prisoners of conscience." Since the elections, dozens of Iranian and foreign journalists have been arrested. Others remain in custody, are prohibited from leaving their offices, or have been expelled. Iranian state media went so far as to accuse one of those expelled, BBC journalist Jon Leyne, of hiring "thugs" to kill Neda Agha Soltan, the young musician and philosophy student whose killing galvanized protests against the Iranian regime. The supposed motive? So that Leyne could make a documentary film about Soltan's tragic death.
Note: This is cross-posted with Salon. To read the full piece, go here.">