Iranwire – “Journalism is not a crime. But crimes against the people of Iran and Afghanistan are.”
So wrote the global organization Reporters without Borders (RSF) in a public rebuke of Kianoush Jahanpour, the brash spokesman of Iran’s Drug and Food Administration. The day before, Jahanpour had posted a cryptic tweet interpreted by many as a threat toward an Afghan journalist.
On Monday, August 16, Jahanpour shared an old video clip of an interview with ex-Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, conducted by the Afghan journalist Lotfollah Najafizadeh. Najafizadeh, the president of 24/7 TV channel TOLO News, had grilled an evasive Zarif on the future of the Fatemiyoun Brigade: an Iran-backed Shia militia group fighting on behalf of President Bashar Al-Assad in Syria. The group is comprised of Afghan nationals, many of them conscripted.
The interview, first broadcast on December 22, 2020, had covered other topics including Iran’s relations with the Taliban and the treatment of Afghan refugees in Iran. Many viewed it as a challenge to the Islamic Republic’s credibility; supporters of the regime called Najafizadeh impudent.
Posting the clip again the day after Kabul fell to the Taliban, and at a time when Taliban operatives were reported to be going door to door making lists of journalists’ names, Jahanpour wrote: “If you know this Afghan journalist brother, be sure to convey my greetings!”.
The tweet drew instant condemnation from journalists, civil rights activists and ordinary social media users who read it as at best repugnant, at worst a threat. “Jahanpour, an agent of the Islamic Republic, is encouraging the Fatemiyoun or perhaps even the Taliban to assassinate this prominent Afghan journalist,” wrote political activist Saeed Bashirtash.
Journalist Saeed Arkanzadeh Yazdi said: “To dance over the ruins of a country and to get roaring drunk at the peak of a nation’s sorrows is the height of moral disgrace and inhumane lowliness.”
Perhaps the most noteworthy response to Kianoush Jahanpour came from Reporters without Borders. “Mr. Jahanpour,” RSF wrote. “This reporter is bravely doing his job as a journalist in Kabul. If you, your bosses and your leader had also done your jobs, today you would not be accused of murdering close to 200,000 Iranian citizens. Journalism is not a crime. But crimes against the people of Iran and Afghanistan are.”