New round of Stalinist-style trials under way, more arrests
All of the 16 defendants in the latest trial, which began on 30 January 2010, are accused of being "mohareb" (enemies of God) and "corrupt on earth" - charges that carry the death penalty - and of activities against national security. They include Omid Montazeri, a young reporter for various newspapers, who was arrested on 28 December because of journalistic activities that have included giving interviews to news media based abroad.
"The regime's leaders seem to think that prisoner executions will help to restore calm in Iran," Reporters Without Borders said. "Several of the currently detained journalists and bloggers, who were arrested illegally, are accused of being 'enemies of God' and are being subjected to considerable pressure to make confessions."
The press freedom organisation added: "The new round of Stalinist-style political trials that has just started is a judicial farce and even violates Iran's own laws. We caution the international community that the regime is now capable of taking this macabre scenario to the bitter end."
Montazeri, who wrote for "Shargh" and "Kargozaran", newspapers that have been closed by the government, was arrested after responding to a summons to report to the revolutionary court. The previous day, 27 December, plain-clothes agents from the intelligence ministry searched his home and arrested his mother, Mahin Fahimi. Following Montazeri's arrest, both were transferred to an unknown place of detention.
Various sources say Montazeri is being pressured to confess links to organisations based abroad that are opposed to the regime. His lawyer has not been able to visit him or see the prosecution case file. He has also not been told when Montazeri will appear in court and has not been allowed to go to the court.
"The regime intends to make Montazeri suffer the same fate as his father, who was murdered 21 years ago, in 1988, like many other political prisoners," Reporters Without Borders added.
As in the previous Stalinist-style show trials in August, the defendants are not being allowed to talk to their lawyers, who are unable to find out what their clients are alleged to have done. Instead, the Tehran state prosecutor has appointed defence lawyers with the links to the intelligence services.
Reporters Without Borders has learned of the arrests of three more journalists in the past few days:
- Alireza Saghafi, the editor of "Rah Ayandeh" (a magazine closed by the authorities in May 2008), was arrested on 1 February 2010 after responding to a summons to go to the intelligence ministry. On the evening of the same day, computers and books were seized in a search of his home. A member of the Iranian writers' association, he was previously arrested on 1 May 2009, an hour before the start of May Day demonstrations, and was freed on 10 June on payment of 70 million toman in bail. He was summoned several times before his arrest.
- As ceremonies marking the 40th day of mourning for Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri's death were taking place on 29 January, police arrested several people including Ali Asharf Fathi, a theologian at the Koranic school in the religious city of Qom who edits the Tourjan website ( http://tourjan.com/ ). A moderate known for criticising extremists, he is the son of a famous Revolutionary Guard commander who was killed in the Iran-Iraq war.
Photographer Mehraneh Atashi ( http://mehranehatashi.com/ ) and her husband were arrested on 12 January. After working for various international media for several years, Atashi had recently decided to concentrate on artistic photography. It is not known where she and her husband have been held since their arrest.
Internet connections have meanwhile been slowed down in several cities ahead of the Islamic Revolution's 31st anniversary, as they have been during all events likely to be used by the opposition to stage demonstrations. Several websites have been also been the targets of attacks by hackers, including the Radio Zamaneh ( http://radiozamaaneh.com/ ) website, which was attacked by the "cyber-army," a Revolutionary Guards group.