Iran is stepping up arrests of activists and journalists in a crackdown against civil society as anti-regime protests continue to rage nationwide, activists said on Monday.
Eighteen journalists have been imprisoned since the protests erupted earlier this month over the death of Mahsa Amini, 22, who had been arrested by the country's notorious morality police, according to the Washington-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
Numerous activists and lawyers have also been held, including the prominent freedom of speech campaigner Hossein Ronaghi who was arrested over the weekend, reports in Persian-language media abroad said.
The arrests come on top of severe Internet restrictions and blocking of sites including Instagram and WhatsApp, which activists say is aimed at preventing details of the protests filtering out to the outside world.
"By targeting journalists amid a great deal of violence after restricting access to WhatsApp and Instagram, the Iranian authorities are sending a clear message that there must be no coverage of the protests," Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said in a statement.
Ronaghi, who is bitterly critical of Iran's Islamic leadership and has contributed to the Washington Post, said in a video posted at the weekend that he had initially eluded arrest by escaping his flat when agents came for him at home.
But security forces detained him on Saturday along with both his lawyers, London-based Iran International said, saying that he had told his family from prison that he had been beaten in detention.
Activists also said two university students in their early 20s who were also beginning careers as writers -- Banafsheh Kamali and Maedeh Jamal -- had been arrested.
Videos were posted on social media claimed to show the moment when Jamal was arrested with a female voice yelling "Help! Help!".
Among the 18 journalists held, according to the CPJ, are photojournalist Yalda Moaiery, who won international recognition for an iconic 2019 photo of protests and reporter Nilufar Hamedi who exposed the case of Amini by going to the hospital where she was in a coma.
Meanwhile, the authorities also arrested five prominent members of the Bahai religious minority in different cities across the country, said Diane Alai, representative of the Bahai International Community (BIC) to the UN in Geneva.
The Bahai, Iran's largest non-Muslim religious minority but not recognised in the Islamic Republic, had already been experiencing a crackdown even before the protests started with senior figures arrested and homes destroyed.