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Journalists forced to confess in show trials; detainees tortured

The media was excoriated in Iran last week in the farcical mass trial of opponents of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election, reports Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Authorities continue to detain journalists employed by foreign media and target bloggers.

Human Rights Watch says the United Nations should use Ahmadinejad's visit to the UN General Assembly this week to address Iran's worsening rights crisis, which includes allegations of murder, torture and rape of detainees.

During the fifth hearing before a Tehran revolutionary court on 14 September 2009, RSF says imprisoned journalists still had no access to their own lawyers, who have not been permitted to see the cases prepared against their clients. Lawyers connected to the intelligence services have been assigned to journalists by the court.

According to RSF, Mohammad Reza Nourbakhash, a journalist detained since 4 August, was one of six defendants in court in the 14 September hearing. He was forced to read out a statement confirming his guilt and that of the politicians, in total agreement with the prosecutor's indictment. All six defendants admitted to having been manipulated by "false information on the Internet."

The prosecutor attacked the social networking website Facebook and the video-sharing website YouTube, saying the U.S. promoted these sites to influence rioters and "wage psychological war against Iran."

"This travesty of justice must be brought to an end," RSF said. "The Iranian judicial authorities want to humiliate journalists and bloggers by staging forced confessions and requests for forgiveness. Journalists and ordinary Internet users are being tried just for sending emails and looking at news websites. The regime wants to punish not only professional journalists but also anyone accessing news and information."

Also, RSF is outraged that Maziar Bahari, the correspondent of the U.S. news magazine "Newsweek", arrested three months ago, and Fariba Pajooh, a stringer for "Radio France Internationale", who has begun her second month in detention, are still imprisoned. Bahari has dual Canadian and Iranian citizenship.

"The foreign media are still being targeted by the government and accused of spying. Physical and psychological pressure is being used to force their detained correspondents to make confessions," says RSF.

As of 16 September at least 22 journalists remain in Iranian prisons since being detained in the aftermath of the June elections, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). The authorities have arrested thousands of protesters, censored the media, blocked websites, expelled and vilified foreign journalists and put dozens of detainees, among them journalists, on trial. At least 70 journalists have been detained in ongoing sweeps since 12 June.

RSF reports of continued arrests, including the arrest on 17 September of Ali Pirhasanlou, one of the first journalists to start blogging in Iran. Pirhasanlou, who used to write for several, now closed, pro-reform newspapers and who blogs under the name of Alpar, was arrested together with his wife, Fatemeh Sotoudeh. They are accused of "activity against national security."

Meanwhile, on 21 September the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran and Human Rights Watch said the government is covering up deaths in detention by intimidating and threatening families into claiming their loved ones died of natural causes. In addition, they have documented the torture of people such as Ebrahim Sharifi, who was detained on June 22 for one week. He told the Campaign that he was subjected to severe beatings, mock executions and sexual assault. The two rights groups are urging the UN General Assembly to appoint a special envoy to Iran to investigate abuses.

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