Meet Courage in Journalism Award Winner Parisa Hafezi, Reuters Bureau Chief, Iran

The single mom has suffered beatings and detentions to cover the news in dangerous Tehran.

By Lesley Kennedy • Reporter
parisa hafezi reuters bureau chief image
Parisa Hafezi is the Reuters Iran bureau chief.
Photograph: International Women’s Media Foundation

Parisa Hafezi has been attacked by riot police on the streets of Tehran, targeted by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, endured government interrogations and even been kidnapped as a result of her work.

The Iranian-born journalist serves as  chief of Reuters' bureau in Iran, and despite her brushes with danger, she refuses to step away from the job she says she loves.

Hafezi is one of four brave women journalists to be honored by the International Women’s Media Foundation at the 2011 Courage in Journalism Awards for risking their lives to cover the news. Two events are slated, for October 24 in Los Angeles and October 27 in New York.

Joining Hafezi, 41, are editor Adela Navarro Bello from Zeta newsmagazine in Mexico, Thai online newspaper director Chiranuch Premchaiporn, and reporter Kate Adie, the BBC’s first chief news correspondent, who will be awarded the IWMF’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

We spoke with Hafezi recently about why she not only continues to cover the news in such hazardous circumstances but even runs toward danger. An edited version of the interview follows.

More: You stayed to cover the violent protests on the streets of Tehran after the country’s 2009 elections when most of the media took off. Can you talk about that decision?

Parisa Hafezi: It was a very dangerous period to work in Iran, as the country was in crisis—according to officials—and foreign media, especially Reuters, that is not favored by authorities in the Islamic state often is called “the Zionist news agency"  by state media. I became the bureau chief a month ahead of the 2009 vote, meaning that I was the only female, Iranian bureau chief in the country.

Three days after the vote, Reuters’ office was busted by plainclothes agents, who kept me and the team under office-detention for almost four hours and checked our stories, pictures taken from protests and our TV footage. That was the day that dozens of pro-reform senior politicians, activists and journalists were arrested.

I was followed, detained and interrogated several times in the months after the vote. Reporting protests was very dangerous, as the authorities banned foreign media members leaving their office during the street protests. Any report could be considered as supporting the opposition and acting against national security, which is a serious charge in Iran. I faced beatings in the street, detentions and house and office raids.  

No other office of foreign media in Tehran faced such problems. However, I should say that the situation calmed down after some months and, as you see, I am still in Iran and continue reporting events.

More: Why did you choose to stay and continue reporting, when other journalists fled?

PH: As a journalist, my job is to report events, and to do my job properly, I need to stay in the field. I chose to stay because I should be where the news is. Without witnessing events like protests, how can you report it properly? Without feeling the fear ordinary Iranians felt when seeing riot police everywhere in the streets, how can a journalist report properly? Being beaten or detained is part of our job, particularly for those who cover stories in hostile environments. You cannot sit in an office in the United States or Europe or anywhere else and write about protests in Iran. Despite all the pressure, I decided to stay because I had to do my job. 

More: What makes reporting in such dangerous circumstances worth the risks?

PH: I love my job, and taking risks is part of my job. You cannot jump into the pool and expect not to get wet. During that period, I never thought about risks, I just focused on doing my job properly and tried to write impartial and accurate reports from Tehran.

First Published October 24, 2011

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