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Bloggers' death sentences confirmed; more journalists arrested

(RSF/IFEX) - 11 January 2012 - The Iranian government's constant repressive policies towards journalists and netizens are being steadily ratcheted up as part of a generalized increase in persecution of dissidents and a reinforcement of online censorship.

Reporters Without Borders sent a letter yesterday to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay to share its deep concern for the situation and ask for her intervention.

Two bloggers sentenced to death

Two jailed netizens, Saeed Malekpour and Vahid Asghari, were sentenced to death in January 2011 on charges of anti-government agitation and insulting Islam. The sentence has just been confirmed. The supreme court must now issue a ruling. According to Malekpour's family, the sentence was confirmed in October by Judge Mohammad Moghisieh of the 28th chamber of the Tehran revolutionary court.

Asghari, a 25-year-old information technology student, has reportedly been tortured while in detention. His trial took place at the end of 2010 but his family was only recently informed of his death sentence by Abolghasem Salevati, the president of the 15th chamber of the revolutionary court.

New wave of arrests of journalists

The Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has waged an unrelenting war on journalists and netizens since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's disputed reelection in June 2009. More than 100 bloggers have been arrested and given sentences ranging from one to 20 years in prison in a paranoid response to the “soft war” waged by “Iran's enemies.”

The Telecommunication Company of Iran (TCI) is now partially owned by the Revolutionary Guards and, in practice, is under their control. The Organized Crime Surveillance Centre, which was created by the Revolutionary Guards, and their official website Gerdab have actively participated in tracking, identifying and arresting netizens. On 20 May 2010, Ebrahim Jabari, one of the Revolutionary Guard commanders, officially confirmed the creation of a cyber-army, which has been responsible for the targeting of “destructive” networks and the arrests of hundreds of netizens. Twenty-one netizens and 29 journalists are currently detained.

Three of them, Fatemeh Khardmand, Ehssan Hoshmand and Saeed Madani, were arrested by plainclothes men at their Tehran homes on 7 January. Confirming their arrest the next day, intelligence minister Heydar Moslehi said they had “envisaged carrying out American plans to disrupt the parliamentary elections by using cyber-space and social networks.” This is a clearly trumped-up charge by a regime which, without any evidence, systematically accuses dissidents of being spies working for the United States or Israel.

Khardmand is a journalist with the monthly Gozaresh Sanat Chap. According to her husband, Masoud Lavassani, a journalist and blogger who was released in July after two years in detention, her arrest was carried out by four intelligence ministry officials with a warrant that stated she was accused of “being in contact with the families of political prisoners.” Her state of health is a source of concern and their four-year-old son, who was already disturbed by his father's long imprisonment, is in a state of shock.

Mehdi Khazali, who edits the Baran blog and has been arrested several times in the past, was arrested again on 9 January. According to his wife, he was injured during his arrest, which was carried out in a very violent manner. Khazali is the son of Ayatollah Abolghasem Khazali, an influential member of the Council of Guardians of the Iranian Constitution for the past three decades. Despite his frequent run-ins with the authorities, Mehdi Khazali is very scathing about the government's policies and human rights violations in his blog, which has been the victim of a cyber-attack and is no longer accessible.
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