|Parisa Hafezi, Iran
2011 Courage in Journalism Award
Riot police armed with electric batons attacked Parisa Hafezi as she struggled to cover the bloodshed and chaos on the streets of Tehran. Hundreds of thousands of anti-government protesters marched, with many shouting, “We fight, we die.”
After reporting on the violent protests, Hafezi was targeted by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard who threatened to arrest her. As Tehran bureau chief for Reuters, Hafezi wouldn’t back down – while many local and foreign journalists fled the country after the disputed 2009 elections.
“Some reporters refused to use the Tehran dateline, but we weren’t afraid to show we were there. We didn’t move out; we were the first on the streets,” said Hafezi, 41, an Iranian-born veteran journalist. “We had to be strong and take the risks to report the stories.”
Hafezi, a 2011 IWMF Courage in Journalism Award winner, has endured beatings, interrogations and raids on her office and home for critical reporting. Hafezi has battled against tough restrictions on women and the media and fought efforts to censor reporting.
Government agents raided Reuters’ Tehran office after the massive June 2009 protests, screaming at Hafezi and her staff. They bolted the doors, seized video equipment and ransacked the office.
“While the head of the Revolutionary Guard team sat next to her and demanded (that) she show him our computer system, Parisa surreptitiously managed to send a computer message to a colleague in London to alert Reuters of the raid,” said Caroline Drees, Middle East managing editor of Reuters. “She hoped – and was right – that the Revolutionary Guards official would mistake the message for her login details.”
When she reported that Iranian President Ahmadinejad favored a U.N.-drafted nuclear fuel deal in November 2009, she was summoned to the President’s office where officials demanded to know her source. She refused, telling them that if they wanted to deny the report she would publish the denial. They wouldn’t officially deny it, but threatened to revoke her press credentials.
Months later Hafezi was abducted by four men as she left her office and taken to an unmarked building in Tehran. “Are you a spy?” they shouted, slapping her and pushing her for hours. At a time when anti-government protests were reigniting in February 2010, Iran security officials wanted to silence the media.
“Nobody knew where I was. They interrogated me and kept asking if I was having an illicit sexual relationship with former officials. I felt humiliated because I didn’t even know who they were talking about. I thought, ‘My god, I’m just doing my job and I’m being punished.
As violent protests abated in 2010, authorities attempted to intimidate Hafezi by revoking her press accreditation for 45 days and interrogating her when she traveled.
Today the Reuters offices are under constant surveillance and have experienced several break-ins; staffers are convinced that e-mails and telephone lines are bugged. The government routinely calls Reuters "the Zionist news agency."