TEHRAN – An American reporter for the Washington Post and his wife have been detained in Tehran, an Iranian official confirmed.
Jason Rezaian, a 38-year-old dual Iran-US citizen, and his Iranian wife Yeganeh Salehi, were taken into custody on Tuesday evening, the paper said.
Two freelance photographers, also US citizens, were being held too.
Western news organisations, including the BBC, have great difficulty operating in Iran, with journalists facing detention and surveillance.
“We are deeply troubled by this news and are concerned for the welfare of Jason, Yeganeh and two others said to have been detained with them,” Washington Post foreign editor Douglas Jehl said in a statement.
Mr Rezaian, who is from California, has been the Post’s Iran correspondent since 2012. Ms Salehi works as a correspondent for the National, an English-language newspaper based in the United Arab Emirates.
Their detention was confirmed by Iran’s Chief Justice Gholamhossein Esmaili, who said they were being questioned but did not give a reason for the arrests, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.
Mr Esmaili said the judiciary would release more details on the detention following “technical investigations”, and said Iranian security forces are “vigilant towards all kinds of enemies’ activities”.
Analysis: Leyla Khodabakhshi, BBC Persian service
The detentions of Jason Rezaian and Yeganeh Salehi came as the Iranian authorities step up pressure on independent journalists and bloggers. A number of people have been summoned to Tehran’s Evin prison in recent months on charges of involvement in propaganda against the state. Those detained include four female reporters – Marzieh Rasouli, Sajedeh Arabsorkhi, Reyhaneh Tabatabaei and Saba Azarpeik.
The media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders says there are currently 64 journalists and social media users imprisoned in Iran. The Iranian authorities have long kept the media under strict control, but arrests and intimidation intensified after the 2009 democracy protests.
When President Rouhani took office in August 2013 a number of reporters were released from prison, and Ministry of Intelligence representatives in his new cabinet seemed to have taken a more relaxed approach towards the media. But at the same time journalists have come under renewed pressure from the judiciary and the Revolutionary Guards, who operate outside the government’s jurisdiction.
President Rouhani has so far said nothing about the latest wave of arrests.
A reporter in Tehran for a Western news outlet who has been a friend of Mr Rezaian for five years said the couple had expressed no concern over their security or fears they would be detained.
“They were just working hard and only talked about how they enjoyed reporting from here,” the reporter told the BBC.
“This is also a surprise, because the atmosphere in general had appeared to become more open for foreign news outlets, at least, with more foreign journalists getting visas and accreditation.”
Threats against BBC
The reporter said that the handful of dual-national journalists operating in Iran are now quite nervous following Mr Rezaian’s detention.
Authorities in Iran frequently detain or harass journalists working for Western news organisations, and westerners with dual citizenship are typical targets.
Iran-based family members of BBC journalists have been questioned by intelligence services, and authorities have attempted to intimidate London-based BBC Persian staff by setting up false Facebook pages on which BBC staff members purport to admit to sexual misconduct or to spying for the UK.
Last year, Iran warned the families of 15 BBC Persian Service journalists that their relatives must cease working for the BBC in London, and in some cases the lives of the staff were threatened.
In 2009, Iranian-American reporter Roxana Saberi was held for five months after being arrested for purchasing a bottle of wine. She had worked as a freelancer for the BBC and for US radio network National Public Radio. The same year, a reporter for AFP was held for several days. — BBC News