Iran has jailed 45 journalists to date (Photo: Reuters)
Iran has jailed 45 journalists (Photo: Reuters)

If freedom of thought forms the philosophical basis for the existence of the self, it can also be argued that freedom of speech is the inherent foundation for the moulding of ideas into viable forces of change.

The UN Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 says: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

Unfortunately, not all states adhere to this supposed international human right.

The latest Iranian crackdown on the media has only resulted in highlighting the dangers that journalists face in countries where freedom of speech as an absolute right is cast aside in the name of protection from alleged anti-revolutionaries, who purportedly seek to destroy the state from within with the helping hand of the West.

To date, 45 journalists have been detained and jailed in Iran.

"By labelling and targeting local and international media as conspirators because of their work, Iranian authorities are obstructing any independent reporting and effectively discrediting the upcoming elections," said Sherif Mansour, CPJ's Middle East and North Africa programme coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

The committee said that with the arrest of Ali Dehghan (economics editor of pro-reform newspaper Bahar) the number of journalists arrested in Iran over the past week has risen to 15.

Tolerance of opposition views is non-existent, and journalists are accused of being opposed to the Islamic Revolution - guaranteeing their silence and sealing their fate as anti-revolutionaries who tried, but ultimately failed to express themselves.

The upcoming Iranian elections, which take place in five months, have prompted the recent crackdown.Reporters without Borders claims that the band of journalists recently detained and questioned by the authorities are being pressured by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard to divulge who they will be voting for.

Elections are always a tricky time, but when it involves the restraint of free speech as a platform for debate and ideas to flourish, one can only wonder how any progress can ensue. Certainly, it's hard to believe the elections will deliver genuine social progress when such a basic human right has been snatched away on the eve of them.

The treatment of Westerners, and female journalists, by the Iranian authorities is particularly galling. The Tehran office of Reuters was shut down in October, clearly demonstrating the belief within the government that Western perception poses a genuine threat to its long-term future. Meanwhile, Zhila Bani Yaghoub, an award-winning journalist of the Iranian Women's Club and renowned female rights activist, is serving a one-year prison sentence for defaming Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during his 2009 election campaign.

Evidently, Voltaire's claim, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it", is simply not acknowledged in Iran. However, despite the recent wave of suppression, it must be hoped that a distinction can be made between those who are truly anti-revolutionaries and political oppositionists, and those working in the media who are striving to make their truths heard.

Yes, freedom of speech is a fundamental human right, but more importantly, it signifies that there is scope for ideas to flourish and for change to follow.

Nadin Rayya is a journalist at IBTimes UK and holds a degree in politics and international studies and a masters in media communications