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Tehran prosecutor turns on conservative news websites; blogger sentenced to six years in prison

(RSF/IFEX) - The Iranian regime's offensive against online free expression is taking a new direction, Reporters Without Borders said after Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi announced on 15 December 2009 that he is going to prosecute two conservative news websites, Jahannews and Alef news, for "insulting" President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"After gradually deploying an unprecedented repressive strategy against independent media, opposition media and new media in recent months, the regime has embarked on a purge within its own camp," Reporters Without Borders said. "This prosecution is indicative of the split within the conservatives as regards the turmoil since last June's disputed election, a split that is reflected within the conservative media. Ahmadinejad has yet again shown he is not going to tolerate any media dissent."

Alef news is owned by parliamentarian Ahmad Tavakoli, one of the leaders of the conservative faction that has often criticised Ahmadinejad and in 2008 waged a campaign against his interior minister, Ali Kordan, who was fired by parliament after it was revealed that he had lied about having an Oxford University doctorate. In October, the website said Ahmadinejad's public statements about his opponents were partly to blame for the post-election unrest.

Jahannews ( ) is run by Alireza Zakani, one of Tehran's representatives in parliament, who was an Ahmadinejad supporter until the events of the past few months. Several conservative factions, including the one to which Jahannews is linked, have distanced themselves from the government as a result of the brutal crackdown on the demonstrations.

Ayandenews ( ), another news website that supports the conservatives, has meanwhile been blocked since 6 December and is the target of a similar prosecution for "insulting government officials." This charge has repeatedly been used in the past 12 years as grounds for closing down newspapers, blocking websites and arresting journalists and bloggers.

Meanwhile, Mohammad Pour Abdullah, a blogger who has been held for nearly a year, was sentenced on 14 December to six years in prison on charges of anti-government publicity and activities against national security. The editor of the blog "Pishro" (Avant-Garde) , he was arrested on 12 January 2009 for writing about prison conditions and the interrogation methods used by intelligence ministry agents.

Hassin Assadi Zidabadi, a blogger who heads a student human rights committee, was released provisionally on 8 December, after being held for 40 days, and is now awaiting trial. He was arrested on 3 November, on the eve of demonstrations marking the 30th anniversary of the US embassy's seizure.

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