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Two journalists sentenced to prison, two others released on bail; monthly suspended

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders welcomes the release of Abolfazl Abedini Nasr of the weekly "Bahar Khozestan" on 18 February 2008 and Said Matinpour, a contributor to the weekly "Yarpagh", on 26 February, but condemns the prison sentences passed on 1 March on journalists Bahaman Ahamadi Amoee and Parnaz Azima, and the monthly "Asar Panjshanbeh"'s suspension by the Press Surveillance and Authorisation Commission.

"Good news never comes without bad news in the Middle East's biggest prison for the press," Reporters Without Borders said. "We can only welcome the release of two journalists but we deplore the fact that excessive amounts of bail had to be paid. The Iranian government is unable to take criticism and still sees the right to news and information as a threat to national security. We urge the authorities to withdraw all the charges against these journalists and to rescind 'Asar Panjshanbeh''s suspension."

Nasr was freed on 18 February after payment of 50 million toumen (approx. 50,000 euros) in bail. He had been held since 13 November 2007 in a prison in Ahvaz (1,200 km south of Tehran, in Khozestan province), where a revolutionary court gave him a one-year sentence on 24 December 2007 on charges of "inciting workers to rebellion" and "relations with foreign media" after he covered a workers' demonstration.

Matinpour was released from Tehran's Evin prison on 26 February following a payment of 500 million toumen (approx. 500,000 euros) in bail. He had been arrested at his home in the northwestern city of Zanjan on 28 May 2007 on a charge of "activity against national security." Both his family and Nasr's had to borrow heavily or mortgage property to raise the bail money.

On 1 March, a Tehran appeal court confirmed a suspended sentence of six months in prison for Amoee, who works for the daily "Sarmayeh". The sentence, for which there is a two-year period of probation, was passed on 26 September 2007 by a revolutionary court in Tehran for "activity against national security" and "publicity against the Islamic Republic" following his arrest on 22 June 2007 while covering a demonstration in the capital. The judge in charge of the case criticised him for signing a petition for the release of Jill Caroll, a U.S. journalist held hostage in Iraq in 2006.

Also on 1 March, the same Tehran court passed a one-year prison sentence in absentia on Azima, a journalist with U.S. and Iranian dual nationality who works for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, after finding her guilty of "propaganda against the regime" and "publicity against the interests of the Islamic Republic" Azima's passport was confiscated when she arrived in Iran in January 2007 to visit her family. She was finally able to leave the country on 18 September 2007.

The Press Surveillance and Authorisation Commission suspended "Asar Panjshanbeh" for "publishing articles insulting religions and the Islamic veil" and "attacking Islamic values." The monthly has been published for the past nine years.

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