Fourteen Iranian journalists have been placed under arrest by government officials for reportedly "consorting with hostile foreign news media".
Seven men and four women were confirmed to have been arrested on Sunday, accused of having ties with foreign news media outlets. Two more men and one woman were placed under arrest on Monday according to a Washington Post report.
Over the last few years, the Iranian government has denounced the BBC's Persian service, along with Voice of American, claiming the media outlets were acting as "arms" of British and U.S. intelligence agencies. Journalists within Iran were warned that there would be consequences for anyone found to have contact with either of the media outlets. According to an Associated Press report, State Prosecutor Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehei said journalists who are in contact with "hostile foreign media" would be punished, saying such reporters were "serving the enemy's purpose."
The journalists arrested worked for media outlets who have filed reports on the country's economic struggles amid Western sanctions. They have also been critical of government policies in the past.
The Mehr News Agency, which is affiliated with Tehran Times, reports that journalist with Arman, Bahar, Etemaad, Shargh, and the Aseman weekly were among those arrested.
Seyyed Mohammad Hoseyni, Iran's Culture Minister, stated the journalists were not arrested on "journalism-related charges", adding:
"We are investigating the issue and after getting more information we will provide the media with it. It seems that they have been arrested over security accusations."
However, on Monday Iran's Police Chief, Brigadier General Esmayeel Ahmadi Moqaddam, issued a statement saying:
"enemy states have been staging a media campaign in the last few months to undermine Iran's upcoming presidential election."
According to state run Fars News, Moqaddam continued by saying:
"Enemy plots will remain futile thanks to the efforts underway by the police and the relevant bodies, adding that police have adopted the necessary security measures for the upcoming elections."
Last week, Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Ejei, a spokesman for Iran's judiciary, warned that some of the county's own journalists posed a threat the Islamic Republic, saying:
"Based on information I have from reliable sources, unfortunately a number of journalists, as well as writing for the nation's newspapers, work hand-in-hand with Westerners and anti-revolutionaries."
Iran's press watchdog group has banned numerous "reformist" news publications since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed 2009 re-election, claiming they violated regulations.
Following the 2009 election, the opposition claimed that the election was rigged by Ahmadinejad and his supporters. Supporters of the opposition candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi, began attacking police and setting government vehicles on fire during protests in Tehran, chanting "down with the dictator". Some believe that these arrests, which come nearly 5 months before the scheduled June 14th Presidential election, are an effort to suppress further protests or opposition to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's preferred candidate.