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IRAN CRACKS DOWN ON JOURNALISTS WITH DEATH SENTENCES, PRISON TERMS

Iranian authorities have stepped up their efforts to persecute and jail journalists, activists and human rights defenders, report human rights groups worldwide. Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) wants you to sign a petition demanding the release of two of their latest victims: Iranian Kurdish journalists whose death sentences were confirmed by the authorities on 31 July.

Adnan Hassanpour and Abdolvahed "Hiva" Botimar both wrote for the weekly magazine "Aso" until it was banned by the government in August 2005, forcing it to halt reports on the widespread unrest that broke out in Kurdish areas following the death of a 25-year old Kurd who was shot by police in Mahabad. The riots were violently suppressed by the authorities.

RSF is appealing to the international community to ask Iran, one of the world's leading practitioners of the death penalty, to reverse its decision and refrain from executing the two men "who only exercised their right to inform their fellow citizens." Sign RSF's petition here: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=15054

The journalists are believed to have been given death sentences - in closed trials - for being "mohareb" ("enemies of God") and "acting against national security" - for expressing their views on the Kurdish issue. Hassanpour, who also contributed to foreign media outlets including Voice of America and the Prague-based Radio Farda, was detained in January and was held incommunicado without charge. Botimar, an active member of the environmental organisation Sabzchia, was arrested in December 2006. The Kurdish Human Rights Project (KHRP) says both men experienced torture and degrading treatment in prison.

KHRP is concerned that the judgment will be implemented within three weeks if there is no international intervention. RSF reports that on 3 August, the European Union stepped forward and reminded Iran that it is signatory to international covenants that affirm the right to a fair trial.

International PEN's Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) and KHRP believe that Botimar and Hassanpour were not only targeted for being journalists, but also for being Kurdish. According to WiPC, an "apparent pattern of repression against journalists and human rights activists in Iranian Kurdistan" has been ongoing since unrest broke out in 2005. Several other Iranian-Kurdish journalists are currently detained, and four Kurdish intellectuals were arrested a week after the death sentences were handed down for their activities in support of Hassanpour and Botimar, says WiPC.

Continuing the pattern of Iran's latest crackdown, RSF reports on a number of cases of journalists being targeted. Journalist Soheil Assefi was arrested when he presented himself to a Tehran court on 4 August in response to a summons. Neither his family nor his lawyers know where he is being held or what he is charged with. Officials from the prosecutor's office searched his home on 31 July, taking personal documents and his computer's hard disk.

Also on 31 July, editor Emadoldin Baghi was sentenced to three years in prison for writing articles that defended persons who were sentenced to death in southern Iran, while his wife and daughter received three-year suspended sentences for participating in a series of human rights workshops in Dubai. Emadoldin edited the "Jomhouriat" newspaper, until it was closed down by the authorities in September 2004, while his wife was editor of the now-defunct monthly "Jameh-e-no".

Journalist Farshad Gorbanpour, who works for the news website Roozonline, was arrested and sent to Tehran's Evin prison, also on 31 July. The charges against him have not been revealed.

"These developments confirm that the human rights situation in Iran is getting worse by the day," says RSF.

IFEX members have recently reported on the increased harassment of women's groups, students and U.S.-Iranian dual nationals. According to RSF, Iran continues to be the Middle East's biggest prison for the press - 11 journalists and cyber-dissidents are currently in jail, in often deteriorating conditions. Human Rights Watch reports that student editors and activists who were arrested in May and June on "politically motivated charges" have been subject to beatings, 24-hour interrogation sessions, sleep deprivation and threats at the hands of the authorities who are trying to extract confessions.

Visit these links:
- IFEX alerts on Iran: http://tinyurl.com/2r5za8
- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=23114
- RSF on E.U.: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=23190
- RSF on Assefi: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=23179
- WiPC: http://tinyurl.com/2jlhrg
- CPJ: http://tinyurl.com/363f65
- Human Rights Watch on students: http://tinyurl.com/2prpwn
- KHRP: http://www.khrp.org/news/pr2007/30-07-07.htm
(7 August 2007)

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