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June 24, 2009, 5:56 p.m.

Nieman Foundation calls for release of Iason Athanasiadis, journalist detained by Iranian government

You may have seen that our friend Iason Athanasiadis has been arrested by the Iranian government. Iason is a Greek freelance journalist with wide international experience and was a member of the 2007-08 class of Nieman Fellows here at Harvard.

Bob Giles, curator of the Nieman Foundation and my boss, has written a statement on behalf of the foundation, which is below. But on a personal note, I was also a member of Iason’s class of Nieman Fellows, and I was proud to get to know Iason as a top-notch human being, dedicated to fair and accurate reporting and with a deep commitment to covering Iran. We all want nothing more than for the Greek government to be successful in securing his release and his return to his family.

GlobalPost and the Pulitzer Center — two news organizations for which Iason had recently reported from Iran — have also issued statements.

Nieman Foundation calls for release of journalist detained in Iran

Iason Athanasiadis, our friend and colleague from the Nieman Class of 2008, has been arrested and is being detained by the Iranian government. Iason, a Greek citizen, was in Iran to report on the June 12 presidential election. He was traveling with a valid journalist’s visa and credentials when he was picked up by Iranian officials at the Tehran airport last Wednesday evening. Iranian news agencies have reported his detention, although no precise charges have been presented.

“The Nieman Foundation and members of the Nieman community around the world are supportive of the Greek diplomatic initiatives to secure Iason’s safe and immediate release,” said Nieman Curator Bob Giles. “His dispatches from Iran are the work of a professional journalist who cares deeply about the Iranian people, for whom he has developed a deep affection during his years of reporting there.”

Iason, who grew up in Athens as the son of university professors, developed a familiarity with Iran during three years there as both a journalist and student. He filed stories for a range of publications including the Financial Times, Al-Ahram Weekly, The Daily Star in Lebanon and Al Jazeera. During that period, he earned a master’s degree with a concentration in Persian and Contemporary Asian Studies at the School of International Relations in Tehran.

Iason once recalled the Persian saying that “knowing another language is tantamount to possessing another culture.” He said he recognized the difference in his coverage of the region after achieving fluency in Farsi and freeing himself from dependence on a translator.

During his Nieman year, Iason amazed his classmates with his energetic pursuit of courses throughout Harvard and his willingness to serve on panels and fulfill speaking invitations, often to talk about Iran. His op-ed pieces and occasional freelance assignments seemed to materialize effortlessly. He also created an exhibit of his work as a photojournalist. Leading teachers and thinkers at Harvard were drawn to him as a fair-minded and knowledgeable source of information about Iran.

During his recent reporting visit to Iran, he filed stories for The Washington Times, GlobalPost and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

The Nieman Foundation and Nieman Fellows in many parts of the world are asking news organizations to work through diplomatic channels in an effort to secure his release. Iason’s family has requested help from the Greek Foreign Minister and the Greek Ambassador to Iran.

Iason is among at least 40 journalists and bloggers who have been detained by the Iranian government since the contested election took place earlier this month.

POSTED     June 24, 2009, 5:56 p.m.
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