The members of the International Press Institute (IPI), meeting at their 65th Annual General Assembly during the IPI World Congress on March 21, 2016 in Doha, Qatar, adopted by unanimous vote a resolution welcoming recent political developments in Iran, but urging the country to free imprisoned journalists and ensure greater respect for human rights and free expression.

Journalism is an extremely hazardous profession in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The country is regularly a world leader in the number of journalists behind bars and those who criticise the state or officials face systematic persecution, including intimidation, arrest, imprisonment, torture and even death. Moreover, impunity for officials who commit abuses remains pervasive.

Repression against journalists has been common during the course of Iran’s recent history, leading IPI to name four journalists from Iran – Ahmad Zeidabadi, Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, Akbar Ganji and Faraj Sarkohi, all of whom spent time behind bars for engaging in journalism – as World Press Freedom Heroes. However, that repression became particularly acute following the disputed presidential election in 2009. According to the campaign, some 43 journalists, bloggers and citizen journalists are currently imprisoned in Iran as a result of their work. Numerous others regularly engage in self-censorship and avoid discussion of sensitive topics.

Nevertheless, Iran has recently seen some potentially positive political developments. Self-identified pro-reform candidates made strong gains in parliamentary elections and two of the most radical clerics were ousted from the Assembly of Experts, a panel with the constitutional duty to select the nation’s next supreme leader when that position becomes vacant.

IPI members welcomed these developments, insofar as they could lead to greater respect for human rights, and the members urged Iranian lawmakers to end the country’s persecution of journalists and to enact reforms to ensure the country brings itself fully into line with international standards on free expression and media freedom. As a first step, IPI members called on Iran’s government to release all journalists, bloggers and citizen journalists currently behind bars because of their work.

IPI members also urged the government to ensure that journalists are allowed to cover news in the public interest without fear of violence or arbitrary detention, and they called on the government to ensure that anyone responsible for violence, harassment or intimidation directed toward journalists is held accountable.

IPI members further noted that they remain open to engage in dialogue with Iran’s government should it indicate a serious desire to make improvements in the free expression and press freedom situation in Iran.