Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Thursday criticized the recent arrests of journalists amid an ongoing crackdown on expression by the country's hard-liners, which he himself promised to put an end to before he was elected.
According to a report in the state-owned daily IRAN, quoted by The Associated Press, Rouhani said hard-liners "misuse" remarks by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on the possible spread of U.S. influence in Iran as an excuse for the detentions.
The president was referring to Khamenei's statements this week that reflect deep suspicious of the United States and prevailing views in Iran that Washington policies are a threat to the country.
Rouhani said the hard-liners are "exaggerating the case" and making baseless arrests, according to AP.
"We shouldn't detain one or two people, here and there, while exaggerating the case and saying there is a 'current' (U.S.) infiltration in Iran," he stated, adding he hopes everyone in the country understands that it's not permissible to "abuse" Khamenei's statements for "personal, group and factional interests."
Earlier this week it was reported that authorities in Iran had detained five local journalists, as Iran is notorious for doing.
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.
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.
Opposition activists haverepeatedlywarned that not only has Rouhani failed to keep his promises to allow greater freedom of expression, the situation in Iran during his presidency is worse than it was under his hardline predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.