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Call for end to harassment of media after new wave of arrests of journalists

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has called for the release of Ali Farahbakhsh and Kaveh Javanmard, two journalists who have been held since late 2006, and urged the Iranian authorities to put an end to a wave of arbitrary arrests and harassment of media personnel that is taking place throughout the country.

"From Tehran to the northern Kurdish region, the harassment of journalists has been stepped up yet again," the press freedom organisation said. "Journalists who dare to criticise President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are accused of every kind of crime ranging from spying or threatening state security to treason. These are all just pretexts for tightening the gag on the press."

Farahbakhsh is a business journalist who contributes to the daily "Sarmayeh". He also used to write for several pro-reform dailies such as "Yas-e no" and "Shargh" that have been shut down. He was arrested in Tehran on 27 November 2006 on his return from a trip to Bangkok, where he took part in a conference about the media held by Thai organisations.

His arrest was kept secret for 40 days until revealed by the Union of Journalists. His family has been able to visit him but was ordered to say nothing about his detention. The director of prisons for the Tehran region, Sohrabe Soleymani, confirmed on 7 January 2007 that he is being held in Evin prison. There has been no indication of what charges have been brought against him.

A total of 21 Iranian journalists were also detained at Tehran airport on their return from training in the Netherlands in November, and were questioned for several hours. Their laptops, notebooks and other material were confiscated. Some of them subsequently reported being summoned for questioning by the intelligence services.

Crackdown on journalists in Kurdish north

Javanmard was detained in a wave of arrests, bans and acts of intimidation that followed a visit to the Kurdish north by President Ahmadinejad and culture minister Mohammad Hassan Saffar Harandi in September. The crackdown included the closure of two weeklies, "Navai Vaghat" and "Kaziveh", for "separatism" in November. Journalists with another newspaper, "Didgah", decided to suspend publication at the end of December after receiving threats of intelligence agencies.

The authorities also targeted the staff of the weekly "Krafto", which is based in the capital of the Kurdish region, Sanandej. One of its journalists, Ako Kurdnasab, was arrested in a polling station on 16 December while covering elections for the municipal government and Committee of Experts. He was freed on bail on 3 January pending trail on charges that are not yet known.

Javanmard also works for "Krafto". He was arrested at his home by officials from the ministry of intelligence on 18 December and is still being held at Sanandej prison without being charged. Two days after his arrest, the newspaper's publisher, Lila Madani, and her editor in chief, Iraj Ebadi, were ordered to report to the Sanandej courthouse.

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