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BLOGGER DIES WHILE IN CUSTODY

An Iranian blogger sent to prison last month for insulting the country's religious leaders and making propaganda against the state has died under questionable circumstances, report ARTICLE 19, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Omidreza Mirsayafi died in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison on 18 March, just over a month after he was sentenced to more than two years in jail for posting comments on his blog about religious figures, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the 1979 revolution.

Prison authorities said Mirsayafi, who suffered from depression, committed suicide by overdosing on sedatives. But his family questions their findings, maintaining he would not have possessed enough medication to kill himself.

According to RSF, Hessam Firoozi, an imprisoned doctor who has treated some of Iran's best-known political activists and witnessed Mirsayafi's treatment, told Mirsafayi's lawyer that Mirsayafi's death could be attributed entirely to the prison's failure to provide medical assistance.
Mirsayafi was awaiting a further trial on charges of insulting "sacred Islamic values". The offences were allegedly committed on his now defunct blog, Rooznegaar, which focused mainly on Persian music and culture, says RSF.
Mirsayafi had consistently denied the charges against him, saying his blogs were not political in nature. He told RSF in a recent email that he would "not have the energy to live in prison."

"We hold the Iranian authorities entirely responsible for the death of Omidreza Mirsayafi. He was unfairly arrested and they failed to provide him with the necessary medical care," RSF said.

According to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, Amir Hossein Heshmatsaran, founder of an Iranian opposition group called the National Unity Front, also died this month, on 6 March, while serving an eight-year sentence. Heshmatsaran's family alleged that he had died because of negligence, after suffering a stroke.

"Iranian leaders have relegated the administration of the prison system to a group of incompetent and cruel officials who are showing their utter disregard for human life," said Hadi Ghaemi, the campaign's spokesperson. "If the authorities do not move quickly to hold negligent officials responsible, they are reinforcing impunity and the lack of accountability."

Iran has come under scrutiny before for its treatment of political prisoners, especially at Evin Prison. In 2003 Zahra Kazemi, an Iranian-Canadian photojournalist, died after being detained there for three weeks, reports CPJ. She was arrested for taking pictures outside the prison.

Meanwhile, Iranian-American freelance journalist Roxana Saberi is still being held in Evin, with recent reports saying she may be held for years. She has been detained since late January. Earlier this month, CPJ delivered a petition to the Islamic Republic of Iran's Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York. With more than 10,000 signatures, the petition requested the direct intervention of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The International Women's Media Foundation has launched another petition for Saberi - sign it at: http://tinyurl.com/d2rnun

Iranian-Canadian blogger Hossein Derakhshan has also been detained since November 2008, but his whereabouts remain unknown. At least five other Iranian journalists were serving time in various Iranian prisons as of 1 December 2008, according to CPJ.

Scrutiny of bloggers is not uncommon in Iran. According to RSF, some 70 bloggers, including many women, have been targeted by Iranian authorities since Ahmadinejad came to power in 2005.

Visit these links:
- ARTICLE 19: http://tinyurl.com/cdqyfj
- CPJ: http://tinyurl.com/csryk2
- CPJ petition for Saberi: http://tinyurl.com/ccnejz
- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=30622
- International Campaign: http://tinyurl.com/dbo5gh
(Photo: Omidreza Mirsayafi's memorial service announcement)

(25 March 2009)

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