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Two journalists detained, national weekly suspended for "ethnic insult"

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has condemned the arrests of two journalists, Shirko Jahani and Hussein Saidpour, and the suspension of a weekly newspaper amid mounting pressure on the media that has prompted five provincial newspapers to stop publishing in a gesture of protest.

"The Iranian authorities have once again shown that repression is the only policy they know how to adopt towards the media," the press freedom organisation said. "This harassment must stop. We call for the immediate release of Jahani and Saidpour."

Jahani, who is the correspondent of the Turkish news agency Euphrat in the northwestern city of Mahabad, was summoned on 27 November 2006 to the local prosecutor's office where he was immediately arrested on the city prosecutor's orders for writing critical articles that were published in the foreign press. Jahani also belongs to an organisation founded by fellow journalist Mohammad Sedigh Kabovand that defends human rights in the Kurdish part of Iran.

Jahani's wife told Reporters Without Borders that he went on hunger strike after refusing to pay bail of 5 million tumen (about 4,000 euros) in protest against the arbitrary nature of his arrest. He is currently being held in Mahabad prison.

Saidpour was arrested on 28 November and the national weekly he edits, "Sepass" ("Thanks"), was suspended over an alleged "ethnic insult" after inhabitants of the southwestern province of Lorestan protested that one of the answers to the latest issue's crossword was offensive. In an attempt to defuse tension as students staged protests against the newspaper, the Press Surveillance Commission ordered its suspension and the Tehran prosecutor issued a warrant for Saidpour's arrest. He is reportedly being held in Tehran's Evin prison.

Five pro-reform and independent weeklies in the northwestern province of Zandijan - "Payam-e Zanjan", "Bahar-e Zanjan", "Seda-ye Zanjan", "Alborz-e Khorram" and "Mowj-e Bidari" - meanwhile announced in a joint statement that they have decided to suspend publication in protest against the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad government's repressive policies towards the media, above all the restrictions and judicial harassment.

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