FILE - Mary Rezaian, mother of detained Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian, right, and Jason's wife Yeganeh leave a Revolutionary Court building in Tehran, Iran, Aug. 10, 2015.
FILE - Mary Rezaian, mother of detained Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian, right, and Jason's wife Yeganeh leave a Revolutionary Court building in Tehran, Iran, Aug. 10, 2015.

Media rights group Reporters Without Borders says Iran has remained one of the world’s most unsafe countries for journalists in part because there is no Iranian association to defend them.

In its annual World Press Freedom Index published on Wednesday, the Paris-based group gave Iran a ranking of 164 out of 180 – a one-point improvement from the previous year. The Reporters Without Borders (RSF) index ranks countries according to the level of freedom available to journalists. Iran has been stuck in the bottom 15 places since RSF began issuing the rankings more than 20 years ago.

In an interview with VOA Persian’s Early News program on Wednesday, the head of the rights group’s Iran desk, Reza Moini, said one factor in Iran’s continued low press freedom score is its lack of any domestic organization to advocate for media rights. Iranian authorities shut down the last organization, the Association of Iranian Journalists, in 2009 after years of harassing it under the conservative presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Iranian journalists created the association in 1997 at the start of the reformist presidency of Mohammad Khatami.

“The Iranian government is an enemy of democracy and independent organizations, so it not only refuses to authorize an organization like RSF, but also prevents pro-government reformist associations from operating,” Moini told VOA Persian.

Moini said the group, also know by its French name Reporters Sans Frontières, or RSF, has no contact with the Iranian government but maintains a close dialogue with independent Iranian journalists in the country.

RSF’s annual ranking note on Iran says its Islamist leadership keeps a tight grip on most media outlets and “never relents in its persecution of independent journalists and citizen-journalists (subjected to) intimidation, arbitrary arrest, and long jail sentences imposed by revolutionary courts at the end of unfair trials.” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani promised to defend “free speech and media freedom” in his successful 2013 election campaign for the presidency.

VOA Persian’s Afshar Sigarchi contributed to this report.