A close media aide to Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani is seeking political asylum in Switzerland after travelling to Lausanne to cover the nuclear talks between Tehran and the West, the British Telegraph reports.
Amir Hossein Mottaghi, who managed public relations for Rouhani during his 2013 election campaign, was said by Iranian news agencies to have quit his job at the Iran Student Correspondents Association (ISCA), according to the report.
He then appeared on an opposition television channel based in London to say he no longer saw any “sense” in his profession as a journalist as he could only write what he was told.
“There are a number of people attending on the Iranian side at the negotiations who are said to be journalists reporting on the negotiations,” he was quoted as having told Irane Farda television. “But they are not journalists and their main job is to make sure that all the news fed back to Iran goes through their channels.
“My conscience would not allow me to carry out my profession in this manner anymore,” said Motaghi, a journalist and commentator who went on to use social media successfully to promote Rouhani to a youthful audience that overwhelmingly elected him to power.
He also made comments which will alarm many critics of the looming Iran deal, claiming that US negotiators had simply become advocates for the Iranian regime.
"The US negotiating team are mainly there to speak on Iran’s behalf with other members of the 5+1 countries and convince them of a deal," he said.
According to the Telegraph, Motaghi was also subject to the bitter internal arguments within the Iranian regime. One news website claimed he had been forced in to report to the ministry of intelligence weekly, and that he had been tipped off that he might be subject to arrest had he returned to Tehran.
He is said to have been a friend of Jason Rezaian, the Iranian-American reporter for the Washington Postwho has been detained in Tehran, and to have campaigned privately for his release.
ISCA, which has come under fire from regime hardliners critical of Rouhani, issued a statement denying that Motaghi was in Lausanne to report for it.
“Amir Hossein Motaghi had terminated his contribution to ISCA and this news agency has not had any reporter at the nuclear talks, except for a photojournalist”, it said, according to the Telegraph.
However, critics said Motaghi was “prey of the exiled counter-revolutionaries” and had gone to Lausanne with the sole purpose of seeking refugee status in Switzerland.
It should be noted that Iran is notorious for its clampdown on media outlets and journalists deemed to be too critical of the regime are nothing out of the ordinary in Iran.
The arrest of the Washington Post reporter is just another example of Iran’s media crackdown. In 2013, a dozen journalists were arrested and jailed in Iran on suspicion of cooperating with Persian-language foreign media outlets.
The arrested reporters were accused of having ties to “anti-revolutionary” media, a term which usually means cooperation with international media outlets.
A month earlier, Iranian authorities hauled in nearly a dozen journalists in a similar crackdown, accusing them of cooperation with foreign news outlets as well.
All publications in Iran must be approved by the ministry of culture and Islamic guidance to ensure they comply with the Islamic republic's strict code of morality.
Tehran also blocks access to numerous websites, including Facebook and Twitter, to stop Iranians from browsing content it considers immoral, or as undermining the regime.
Rouhani, who Iran claims is a “moderate” and more open president, promised during his campaign to allow greater freedom of expression. Opposition activists have warned, however, that not only has Rouhani failed to keep his promise, the situation in Iran now is worse than it was under his hardline predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.