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Four Azeri journalists in detention without charge, female blogger sentenced to prison pending appeal

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders is worried about a rise in tension between the Iranian authorities and journalists who belong to Iran's Azeri community. Four Azeri journalists have been held without charge for more than 10 days, possibly in Tehran's Evin prison, while an Azeri journalist and blogger was sentenced to six months in prison on 20 September 2008 for her online articles.

"These Azeris join the list of ethnic minority journalists held in Iran's prisons for criticising social inequality and demanding equal treatment within Iranian society," Reporters Without Borders said. "It is disturbing that 11 of the 12 journalists currently detained in Iran are from the Kurdish, Azeri or Arab minorities. The Iranian authorities must put a stop to this all-out repression, which is holding back the development of community media."

An investigating judge decided on 17 September to keep four Azeri journalists - Alireza Sarafi, Said Mohamadi, Hassain Rashedi and Akabar Azad - in detention without giving their families any explanation and without letting them see a lawyer. They were arrested on 10 September while meeting at a political activist's home in Tehran.

Sarafi is the editor of "Dilmaj" (a monthly that has been closed since 23 September 2007). Mohamadi is the editor of the literary magazine "Yashagh". Rashedi and Azad write for the magazine "Varlighe" and the weekly "Yarpagh".

The day after the judge's decision to keep them in custody, intelligence agents searched the homes of Sarafi and Rashedi, taking work files, CD-ROMs and the hard drives of their computers. The four men may now be in Evin prison's section 209, which is under the intelligence ministry's control.

Shahnaz Gholami, the editor of the weblog Azar Zan, was sentenced to six months in prison by a revolutionary court in the northwestern city of Tabriz on 20 September for "publicity against the Islamic Republic." She remains free pending the outcome of an appeal being prepared by her lawyer, Mohamad Ali Dadkhah.

A member of the Women Journalists Association (ARZ), Gholami is well known for her involvement in the struggle for women's rights, She was jailed for three weeks in August 2007 for criticising the way the police cracked down on demonstrators in various towns in the Iranian provinces of East and West Azerbaijan. She was also detained for five years in the 1980s because of her political activities.

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