Marzieh Rasouli, Parastoo Dokouhaki and Sahamoddin Bourghani had worked for reformist media outlets
At least three prominent journalists have been arrested in Iran in a fresh crackdown on press freedom ahead of the country's parliamentary elections in March.
Two journalists, Marzieh
Rasouli and Parastoo Dokouhaki, and photojournalist Sahamoddin Bourghani were arrested separately by officials believed to be from the Iranian security services.
Rasouli, who has been working for the arts and culture sections of some of the country's leading reformist newspapers, is reported to have been arrested at home in the early hours of Tuesday and taken to Tehran's Evin prison.
According to reports published on Iranian opposition websites, security officers showed a warrant for her arrest, which accused her of "acting against national security", a vague charge the Islamic regime has often used to convict many of the country's activists and journalists, especially since Iran's 2009 disputed presidential elections.
In recent years, many reformist publications have been closed down temporarily or permanently. As a result, Rasouli was among a group of journalists with little job security, often changing the publication she worked for after only a few months. During the presidency of the former reformist leader Mohammad Khatami, when newspapers enjoyed relatively more freedom in reporting, Rasouli edited the music pages of Shargh newspaper, which has recently resumed publication after months of closure. She has also worked for the reformist Etemaad and Roozegar newspapers.
Mohamed Abdel Dayem, programme co-ordinator for the Middle East and North Africa at the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, said: "Iran, which in 2011 was the world's leading jailer of journalists with 42 imprisoned, is intent on using the legal system as a tool to silence critical media."
He added: "Tehran continues to maintain a revolving prison door, releasing some journalists while arresting others on a regular basis. The recent spate of media arrests in the opening weeks of the year is an illustration of that policy."
Dokouhaki, a graduate in media studies from London's School of Oriental and African Studies, who has not been active in journalism in recent years because of restrictions imposed on the media, was arrested on Sunday night.
According to one of her friends, who spoke on condition of anonymity, officers ransacked her room and confiscated her laptop and some of her documents before taking her into custody.
"She has been very depressed in recent years due to the death of her father and also the restrictions on media in the country," her friend said. "She was not politically active and was only working as a researcher on social and cultural issues. We are very worried for her health right now."
Dokouhaki, whose blog, Zan-Nevesht, is well-known among the country's online community, was also a women's rights activist in the past. She campaigned for female fans to be allowed to enter stadiums.
"With less than two months before the country's sensitive elections in March, Iran is sending a signal to the country's online community and journalists, warning them that they do not tolerate any kind of opposition," said her friend.
Kaleme.com, a website close to the opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, reported on Wednesday that Bourghani was the latest victim in the recent arrests of journalists.
Mehrad Vaezinejad, an Iranian freelance journalist based in London who has closely followed the work of Bourghani, said: "He was the son of the late Ahmad Bourghani, a prominent member of Khatami's cultural affairs team. He did work for Etemad-e Melli [the newspaper of leading reformist Mehdi Karroubi] before it was banned by the authorities last year."
According to Kaleme, in recent weeks at least three other journalists have also been arrested. They have been identified as Fatemeh Kheradmand, Saeed Madani and Ehsan Hooshmand. On Wednesday, it emerged that the Iranian authorities have also arrested an acclaimed translator, Mohammad Soleimani-nia.
"It seems that as we get closer to the parliamentary elections in March, the regime gets more and more worried about the possibility of yet another political crisis. A campaign of fear seems to be in order," said Vaezinejad.
Earlier this month, it emerged that Iran is also clamping down on web users with draconian rules on cybercafes and preparations to launch a national internet.