In her five years of travelling in and out of Iran on assignment, Singaporean freelance photojournalist Zann Huang has been interrogated nearly 20 times at various police stations.
“They asked me questions such as what I was doing in Iran, why did I keep visiting Iran and why I was travelling alone. I met some people on my trips, wrote their contact details in my notebook and the police asked me who they were,” the 35-year-old said.
The interrogations took place in less visited cities such as Kerman near Pakistan and Gorgan near Turkmenistan. Each time, the police let her go without a warning or confiscating her belongings. Huang can consider herself lucky.
The New York-based press advocacy group, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), said in its latest report this week that Iran jails more journalists than any other country, accounting for 42 of the 179 editors, writers and photojournalists detained globally. After Iran came Eritrea with 28 and China with 27.
Iran’s post-election crackdown in 2009 was the start of widespread journalist jailings that continue till today, CPJ said. It claims the Iranian authorities have maintained a “revolving cell door”, freeing some detainees on furloughs even as they make new arrests.
While the total number of journalists detained worldwide is at a 15-year high, an increase of 34 since last year, the Middle East and North Africa region has the greatest number of imprisonments – 77 out of 179.
About 45% of those detained are freelance journalists who do not have the legal and monetary support that big news organisations provide to their staff.
“Iran is definitely one of the most restrictive places for a journalist to work in. Freedom of speech is virtually non-existent, although Twitter, Facebook and the Internet have somewhat revolutionised communication … but this has also been subjected to a harsh crackdown by the hardliners,” said Huang, a self-taught photojournalist.
Apart from those “chats” with the police, she has faced other challenges.
“Unlike a writer, a photojournalist has to carry the tools of the trade around – camera and lenses – and that makes me more visible,” said Huang.
Her non-Iranian features also make her stand out.
“It is almost impossible to blend in and it can sometimes obstruct my freedom to document.” — The Straits Times / Asia News Network