The Iranian regime has stopped renewing foreign journalists’ credentials and even closed a newspaper friendly to its cause, part of a worsening crackdown in a country with an abysmal reputation for press freedoms.

“Journalism in Iran nears extinction,” Washington Post columnist Jason Rezaian said in an August 7 essay. He noted that Iran’s regime last month declined to renew permits for several major news outlets and issued only short-term extensions for other foreign correspondents.

“This is a familiar strategy employed by authoritarian regimes like Iran’s, to intimidate and encourage self-censorship among foreign correspondents,” Rezaian wrote.

But the regime is also targeting domestic critics. Rezaian said rising paper costs have been cited for the recent closure of Vataan Emrooz, a newspaper aligned with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, but “no one is buying that excuse.”

A former foreign correspondent, Rezaian has both U.S. and Iranian citizenship. He spent 18 months in an Iranian prison on accusations of spying because of his work as a journalist. He was released in a prisoner swap in January 2016.

Targeting journalists

The regime’s failure to renew credentials worsens its reputation for hostility to journalists. The regime regularly targets journalists and restricts the online exercise of freedom of expression, including through the arrests of bloggers and social media users. In July 2018, Reporters Without Borders estimated that 20 journalists and nine Internet activists remain in prison for expressing their views online.

Reporters Without Borders ranked Iran 170 out of 180 in its annual World Press Freedom Index in April. They cited increasing arrests of Iranian journalists covering anti-government protests or posting comments critical of the government on social media.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, in announcing sanctions against Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif last month, noted that the regime allows Zarif to give interviews at the United Nations, enjoying access to a free press, while limiting journalists back home.

“At the same time the Iranian regime denies Iranian citizens’ access to social media, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif spreads the regime’s propaganda and disinformation around the world through these mediums,” Mnuchin said.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has acknowledged that the regime shuns press freedoms in favor of state-run media. “We do not have free media,” Rouhani said in a January 21 broadcast. “We have a state-run TV and radio [organization].”