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Now world's worst jailer of journalists

Maziar Bahari
Maziar Bahari

Newsweek

With approximately 40 journalists now in prison, Iran has surpassed China as the world's worst jailer of media workers, report Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

At least 30 of the journalists have been arrested in Iran's election aftermath, along with thousands of protestors. With a spate of five arrests in the last two weeks alone, the Iranian regime shows no sign of relent in its quest to silence critical voices after what has been widely viewed as a stolen election.

The fate of the imprisoned journalists remains ever more perilous after the eight-year sentencing of journalist Saeed Matin-Pour in June, as reported by RSF and CPJ. A newspaper journalist with "Yar Pag" and "Mouj Bidari", Matin-Pour‎ was convicted of having "relations with foreigners and propagating against the regime." He is being held in Iran's notorious Evin prison, where 19-year-old prisoner Sohrab Arabi was tortured to death on 11 July.

Most of the journalists have been sent to secret locations unknown to their families and few have been officially charged with anything, reports RSF. "In most such cases, prisoners are not allowed visitors and their lawyers have no access to their case-files," the organisation says.

While international and Iranian law require that detainees are promptly brought before a judge who reviews the basis of their arrest, this right is often superseded by a Criminal Code article allowing prisoners to be held indefinitely without charge in cases relating to "national security," according to Amnesty International.

Foreign journalists and activists have also been rounded up in the wave of repression sweeping Iran. Among them is Maziar Bahari, a dual Canadian-Iranian citizen and "Newsweek" correspondent who has been held without charge since 21 June.

Today, 15 July, a petition signed by more than 100 well-known journalists from 47 countries was sent to the Iranian government calling for the immediate release of Bahari. The petition was compiled by CPJ, Index on Censorship and Canadian Journalists for Free Expression. The groups plan to expand the campaign next week and will be adding additional names.

In a supposed confession, which was reported by Iran's Fars News agency, the 42-year-old journalist allegedly blamed western media for the post-election riots.

According to Human Rights Watch, Iranian authorities are using prolonged interrogations, beatings, sleep deprivation and threats of torture to force detainees to confess to false crimes, which are often in keeping with Iran's unsubstantiated view that post-election protests were backed by foreign powers.

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