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World

Do Iranian Photojournalists Still Face Strict Restrictions?

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Let's turn our thoughts abroad now because in Iran, there was an election last Friday. And among the people celebrating were many Iranian journalists. They had a stake in the outcome. Under President Hasan Rouhani, those who write or create images found the rules just a bit looser than before. They were determined not to lose what they had gained, and Rouhani won re-election. And Steve, I learned a lot about this because you were in Tehran last week...

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Thank you.

GREENE: ...Actually spending time with some of these journalists. Right? I mean, who stood out to you?

INSKEEP: Well, I'm thinking of a photojournalist who we met in Tehran just before the vote. Her name is Maryam Majd. We met her in an office that she shares with three other women. It's an office decorated with modernist paintings and a poster of a new Iranian action film, overlooks a garden, and we sat by the windows overlooking that garden. And she told us her story. She said that she fell in love with news photography as a teenager.

MARYAM MAJD: Oh, when I was - yes, I was 17 years old to start with my work as a photographer.

INSKEEP: What inspired you to start so early?

MAJD: Because of my father. He's Ph.D. of history. And all the time, he will read the newspaper. And sometimes I'm fighting with him. And i say, please give me the newspaper. And all the time I'm cutting the pictures, and I have them until now and really like to see the pictures on newspaper.

INSKEEP: And David, she continued taking those pictures. She became - or she became the person who took those pictures, and that turned out to be hazardous because it is Iran. She says her work was never political, but she explored social issues. She took newspaper photos of women playing sports in a country where that raises all sorts of questions. Should they be playing sports? Should they be covered? And in 2011, she was about to cover the women's World Cup but was arrested and held for weeks before she could pay bail. Now the details of this case, like many here, are murky to outsiders. And it raised a question for me.

Why do you continue? as a journalist, as a documentary-maker, even knowing, as you do, that it can be very hard here and even dangerous to do?

MAJD: (Speaking Farsi).

INSKEEP: She said, "I won't accept any obstacle." And then she went on to say something else, by the way. She said countries near Iran - you know, Iraq, Syria Pakistan - are where many journalists are killed. And in Iran, she says, it's rare for journalists to be killed, although they have been shut down or, as in her case, jailed.

GREENE: Steve, what about the recent past, and what about the future? Does she really feel optimistic about President Rouhani and feel like he has improved freedom of expression for people like her?

INSKEEP: Yeah, yeah. She argues yes, and there's evidence for that. I mean, newspapers favoring reform are often shut down in Iran. But right now, they're operating. It's OK for them, sort of, at the moment.

GREENE: I mean, although people who follow Iran have argued that Rouhani hasn't really delivered on these promises.

INSKEEP: We'll let's be...

GREENE: What do you make of that?

INSKEEP: Let's be clear. Newspapers are operating on the sufferance of the government. The basic rules of censorship haven't changed. But enough has changed that a lot of people who are in creative fields - journalistic fields or filmmakers and so forth - endorsed President Rouhani for re-election. And after he was re-elected, Maryam Majd sent us a little video clip that she took of people dancing in the street.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

INSKEEP: I mean, if you look at this video, it looks like a nightclub. People were very happy.

GREENE: Yeah. Great trip, Steve.

INSKEEP: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.