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Charges made public against two journalists more than a month after their arrest

(RSF/IFEX) - The Iranian justice system has just made public charges against journalists Ako Kurdnasab and Soheil Assefi, in two unconnected cases, more than one month after the two were arrested.

They are among a total of ten journalists currently behind bars in Iran. One of them, Mohammad Sadegh Kabovand, who was arrested on 1 July 2007, still does not know what charges he faces.

"Iran is one of the Middle East's most authoritarian regimes. Journalists are subjected to extreme pressure and most commonly through the courts. They have no means of defending themselves against serious accusations during unfair trials. In most cases they are not even allowed to meet their lawyers", said Reporters Without Borders.

Ako Kurdnasab, of the weekly "Karfto", appeared on 10 September at a closed-doors session of the first chamber of the revolutionary court in Sanandaj, Iranian Kurdistan. According to his lawyer, Kourosh Fatahi, the journalist only found out at this hearing that he was accused of "espionage", "acting against national security" and "attempting to overthrow the regime through his journalistic activities". Agents of the Intelligence Ministry arrested him on 21 July at the offices of his newspaper and he has since been held at Sanandaj prison, with no right to receive visitors.

In a separate development, Ali Reza Jamshidi, spokesman for the Judicial Authority , said that journalist Soheil Assefi, contributor to several media including online publication Roozonline ( http://www.roozonline.com ), was being charged with "publishing false news likely to disturb public opinion". He had been arrested on 4 August after responding to a summons to appear before the Teheran court.

He is being held in security wing 209 of Evin prison with no right to receive visits from either his family or his lawyer. His father, who managed to see him twice from a distance when he went to the prison for administrative questions, is very worried about the deterioration of his son's health. The journalist's mother, Nahid Khirabi, told Reporters Without Borders that her son had lost a dangerous amount of weight and was suffering from dizziness.

In another case, Iranian-American journalist working for Radio Farda, Parnaz Azima, left Iran for the United States on 18 September. She had had her passport confiscated at Tehran airport on 25 January when she came to visit her sick mother. Iranian authorities summoned her on 4 September, to give her back her passport and to inform her she could leave the country. Her lawyer, Mohammed Hossein Agassi, said she was still facing proceedings for "acting against national security" because of her work with the Prague-based radio station.

Also on 18 September, Iranian journalist Akbar Ganji handed a letter signed by 300 intellectuals to Lynn Pascoe, deputy secretary general at the United Nations political affairs department calling for an improvement in human rights in the Islamic Republic. Noam Chomsky, Umberto Eco, Jurgen Habermass and Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor are among the signatories. At the same time, a collective of more than 100 Iranian journalists released a statement protesting at "illegal pressure". Newspaper editors have said they will not accept "orders from judicial or security authorities instructing them to prevent some journalists from working".

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