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Journalists and opposition critics rounded up; 42 imprisoned

Iranian authorities have been on the hunt for prominent independent journalists and opposition figures in a new wave of arrests that began a day after opposition demonstrations took place countrywide on 27 December 2009, report IFEX members. Iran is now the world's biggest prison for media with 42 journalists behind bars as of this week, says Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

On 4 January, 36 parliamentarians presented a bill stipulating that detained government opponents should be seen as "enemies of god" and executed "within a maximum of five days" after their arrest, according to RSF.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), at least 11 journalists were arrested after the massive 27 December demonstrations. Violence erupted between protesters and police when authorities tried to ban a procession to mark the Muslim festival of Ashura which coincided with the death of Ayatollah Hossein Montazeri.

When Montazeri died on 20 December, "tens of thousands of people defied a government ban on demonstrations in homage to this leading pro-reform figure," reports RSF. Right after his death, articles on Montazeri were banned, Internet connections slowed down and telephone communication was disrupted.

More journalists have been arrested in the last week, report RSF, CPJ and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). Journalist Ahmad Zeydabadi was sentenced to six years in prison and five years in exile in a remote desert town in November, reports RSF. Also, journalist and economist Bahaman Ahamadi Amoee was sentenced to seven years and four months imprisonment and 34 lashes for anti-state activities, reports the International Press Institute (IPI).

A leading human rights activist and journalist, Emadoldin Baghi, was arrested at his home in Tehran on 28 December. Baghi has been "summoned, sentenced and jailed more than 80 times in the past 10 years," reports RSF. Baghi was honoured with the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders in 2009.

Alireza Behshtipour Shirazi, the editor of Kaleme.org (opposition leader Mirhossein Moussavi's official website), was also arrested on 28 December, reports RSF.

Meanwhile, most opposition or independent websites have been rendered inaccessible, says RSF. The latest Internet restrictions are being orchestrated by Iranian authorities and Revolutionary Guard servers. Cyber police also attacked Mowjcamp and Twitter websites last month.

Also recently arrested were Badralsadat Mofidi and Mashaalah Shamsolvaezin, respectively General Secretary and Vice President of the Association of Iranian Journalists (AoIJ), an IFJ affiliate.

CPJ International Press Freedom Award recipient Mashallah Shamsolvaezin was arrested on 29 December. He is the former editor of four reformist dailies that were all shut down between 1998 and 2000.

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