WASHINGTON - U.S. President Donald Trump drew both criticism and a small measure of credit after taking to Twitter to chastise Iranian leaders over press restrictions in the Islamic Republic, whose recent acknowledgment that it mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet, killing all 176 aboard, has triggered massive street protests.
"To the leaders of Iran - DO NOT KILL YOUR PROTESTERS," Trump Tweeted in both Farsi and English late on Saturday. "Thousands have already been killed or imprisoned by you, and the World is watching. More importantly, the USA is watching. Turn your internet back on and let reporters roam free!"
To the leaders of Iran - DO NOT KILL YOUR PROTESTERS. Thousands have already been killed or imprisoned by you, and the World is watching. More importantly, the USA is watching. Turn your internet back on and let reporters roam free! Stop the killing of your great Iranian people!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 12, 2020
Critics such as Trump's Republican presidential challenger Bill Weld, a former Massachusetts governor, were quick to lampoon the irony of Trump remarks defending a free press.
"The one bit of good news today is we know that [Trump] wants reporters to roam free in Iran," Weld said of Trump's Tweet while appearing on CNN.
"The only problem is he doesn’t want them to roam free in the U.S., because he says to us a free press is the ‘enemy of the people’," said Weld.
Since assuming office in 2017, multiple news outlets have noted a correlation between Trump’s contempt for mainstream media outlets, and how the use of specific terms such as 'fake news' have subsequently gained traction abroad.
CNN's Brian Stelter, who routinely skewers Trump's combative stance against Western media outlets, offered the president reserved praise for his recent Iran Tweets.
"President Trump supporting press freedom -- not in the United States, but in Iran,” Stetler said in the opening segment of Reliable Sources.
"And Trump is right about press restrictions in the country," Stetler said, referring to research by the Committee to Protect Journalist's "10 Most Censored Countries" list.
"He's right that reporters aren't always allowed to roam free, in fact it's quite bleak," he said. "Journalists in the country are frequently arrested, jailed, and when you are trying to report in Iran, you typically have freedom of movement in Tehran, the capital, but it's another thing to get permission to go to other parts of the country."
In that regard, he added, "the president is clearly hearing the voices of the protesters there."
Abbas Mousavi, and Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, responded directly to Trump's Twitter thread, stating that "those who threatened, sanctioned and terrorized the Iranian nation are not entitled to dishonor the ancient Persian language."
Last year, CPJ ranked Iran as the 7th-most-censored country in the world, citing arrests and "harsh prison sentences on journalists who cover topics deemed sensitive, including local corruption and protests."
"The government suppresses online expression by spying on domestic and international journalists, jamming satellite television broadcasts, and blocking millions of websites and key social media platforms, according to the Center for Human Rights in Iran and U.S. Congress-funded Radio Farda," the report says (Radio Farda is one of VOA's USAGM sister networks).
Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, known by its French acronym RSF, ranked Iran 170 out of 180 countries in its 2019 annual World Press Freedom Index, calling state control of news and information "unrelenting," with "at least 860 journalists and citizen-journalists ... imprisoned or executed since 1979."
The 2019 RSF index ranked the United States 48 out of 180, a three-slot drop from 45th place in 2018, as "rhetorical attacks from the government and private individuals alike grew increasingly hostile."
"President Trump has continued to declare the press as the 'enemy of the American people' and 'fake news' in an apparent attempt to discredit critical reporting," says the index, which cites White House attempts to deny journalists access to events of public interest, record-breaking spans of time without press briefings, and the 2018 revocation of a CNN reporter's press pass.
The Washington Post's former Tehran correspondent Jason Rezaian on Saturday called the ongoing anti-government protests a "make or break moment" for the Islamic Republic, where he spent 544 days in the notorious Evin Prison on politically motivated espionage allegations.
Iranians on Monday staged their third consecutive days of protests.