“This is not some far-fetched movie plot," FBI Assistant Director William Sweeney said in a recent statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of New York. "We allege a group, backed by the Iranian government, conspired to kidnap a U.S.-based journalist here on our soil and forcibly return her to Iran.”
The target of the kidnapping has identified herself as Iranian American journalist Masih Alinejad who now lives in New York. For years she worked as a journalist in Iran and drew the ire of the regime for her reporting. Since fleeing the country in 2009, Alinejad has become renowned for her social media campaign against the compulsory hijab in Iran. She also works as a TV host for a popular program on the Voice of America.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki condemned “Iran’s dangerous and despicable reported plot,” and she called Iran’s actions “to attempt to silence the voices” of those working peacefully both inside and outside Iran “appalling.” Iran ranks 174th out of 180 countries on the 2021 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders. The media freedom organization cited the regime’s “ruthless efforts to control journalists,” including through interrogations, imprisonment, and execution.
But Iran is not the only country where journalists’ lives are imperiled. As Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted, the State Department’s most recent Human Rights Report cites dozens of cases of media workers who have been harassed, attacked, and killed for their work. The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that in 2020, the number of journalists murdered in retaliation for their reporting more than doubled, with Mexico and Afghanistan seeing the largest number of killings. And according to the CPJ, the number of journalists jailed for their reporting in 2020 reached the highest level since the organization began keeping track, with the People’s Republic of China, Turkey, and Egypt imprisoning the most reporters last year.
After Masih Alinejad heard about the kidnapping plot against her, she vowed to press on with her work. “All these wounds make me stronger,” she said. That is the spirit of so many journalists around the world who keep speaking truth to power, regardless of the danger.
As Secretary Blinken has said, “Factual and accurate information provided by independent media are foundational to prosperous and secure democratic societies…We call on all governments to ensure media safety and protect journalists’ ability to do their jobs without fear of violence, threats or unjust detention.”