U.N. human rights experts are urging Iran to stop intimidating journalists before parliamentary elections next year.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said Wednesday Iranian authorities should stop arresting, prosecuting and harassing journalists and online activists, and should provide a safe space for freedom of expression in the lead-up to the elections.
The U.N. special investigator on Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, said, "The increasing intimidation of journalists is hindering their ability to operate freely in Iran."
Iran has one of the highest numbers of journalists and social activists in detention in the world, with at least 45 being held for their peaceful activities as of April of this year, according to UNHCR.
"The government of Iran should not silence critical or dissenting voices under the guise of vague and unsubstantiated national security concerns," said Shaheed.
Shaheed said the recent arrest of five journalists by plainclothes members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard intelligence units is particularly worrying.
UNHCR said the journalists were reportedly detained on suspicion of taking part in an infiltration network seeking to influence public opinion and undermine the Iranian government on behalf of Western governments. More than a dozen other journalists and social media activists have also been reportedly summoned for interrogation by Iranian authorities, according to UNHCR.