Iran expels AFP journalist

TEHRAN, Iran - Agence France-Presse deputy bureau chief in Tehran Jay Deshmukh was expelled on Friday by the Iranian authorities who gave no official explanation for their decision.

Deshmukh, a 40-year-old Indian national who had been in the country since January 2009, was stripped of his press card along with 10 other correspondents on February 15, a day after a major Tehran protest.

The demonstration was the most significant one in the Iranian capital in a year and was covered by AFP and most of the international media.

"Jay is a highly professional and experienced journalist. His expulsion is incomprehensible and unacceptable," said AFP global news director Philippe Massonnet.

Deshmukh joined AFP in 2001 in Mumbai and worked at the agency's Baghdad office from 2005 until 2008.

Foreign and Iranian media have been the target of severe repression in Iran since the contested re-election of conservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June 2009.

The pro-reform opposition has charged that the vote was rigged and, for several months, Iran was gripped by a wave of popular protests unseen since the 1979 Islamic revolution, prompting one of the worst political crises to face the Iranian regime in its history.

Thousands of protesters have been arrested since 2009 and hundreds of anti-government opponents have been put on trial and convicted, some of them receiving heavy sentences.

Iranian journalists also paid a heavy price. More than 40 are currently in jail according to a toll issued in December 2010 by the New York-based International Committee for the Protection of Journalists.

The foreign media has also been targeted and dozens of reporters were either expelled from Iran since 2009, their press cards revoked or entry visas to the country denied.

Coverage by foreign correspondents is largely restricted, and they are banned from reporting at the scene on protests by the opposition and assigned minders to report on official rallies.

The foreign media also must get official permits to interview Iranian officials and cover stories on the ground. They are almost always excluded from covering news conference, except for those given by Ahmadinejad or the foreign ministry.

Most western television and radio networks, such as the BBC and Voice of America, which provide a key source of information for many Iranians, are systematically jammed in the capital Tehran and in most big cities.

The Iranian authorities also block many of the Internet websites based abroad, particularly of the opposition and of Western media.

The Western media is daily denounced by Iranian leaders who accuse it of taking part in a "plot" against the Islamic republic which they say is hatched by the United States, Israel, Britain and European countries.