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The "Blogfather" gets 19 years in regime's war on opinion

One blogger has just been sentenced to 19.5 years in prison, another faces the death penalty and three journalists have been handed multi-year prison terms in Iran, report IFEX members. Take action now to support "The Blogfather," as Hossein Derakhshan is known, by signing the petition at:

The 19.5-year sentence for Derakhshan, a dual Canadian-Iranian citizen, has shocked free expression advocates around the world, many of whom admire the 35-year-old for being the first to post Farsi instructions on how to blog in 2001. ARTICLE 19, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Index on Censorship and PEN Canada have prepared a joint action on Derakhshan's case, which they have appealed to other IFEX members to sign.

Calling on Iran to immediately release Derakhshan and for the international community to step up pressure in support of Iran's political prisoners, the statement attests that, "Prison is no place for Hossein Derakhshan or for the dozens of other writers, journalists, academics and bloggers who continue to languish in Iran's jails."

Derakhshan's sentencing occurred in a closed-door courtroom on 28 September, but was confirmed by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) with his family in Canada, who were informed via a telephone call from the judge on the case.

Derakhshan returned to Iran from Canada in November 2008 after authorities promised him he would not face charges. Yet, he was arrested at the airport on grounds of "insulting government leaders and Islam's holy texts." The blogger has published posts critical of Ahmadinejad and other fundamentalist clerics in the past but, in light of his recent writings in support of Ahmadinejad's policies, Derakhshan did not think he would be prosecuted, let alone tortured in prison.

The lengthy term does not bode well for Vahid Asghari, a 24-year-old pro-reform blogger and student who is currently awaiting sentencing and for whom prosecutors have suggested the death penalty, report several IFEX organisations. Asghari was arrested in the spring of 2008 and tortured into falsely confessing that he ran an online pornographic network. His actual crime, however, was hosting the websites of dissidents and opposition members.

Meanwhile, three journalists arrested in the months following Iran's disputed June 2009 elections, have been sentenced to prison. Shiva Nazar Ahari is a 26-year-oldreporter for the Committee of Human Rights Reporters and an advocate for women's, children's and prisoners' rights. She has been convicted of "waging war against God" among other crimes and sentenced to six years. She had been facing the death penalty.

Emadeddin Baghi also received six years for a 2007 interview he conducted for the BBC during which he challenged a since-deceased cleric. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is calling his sentence "punitive and absurd."

Finally, CPJ reports that prominent columnist Issa Saharkhiz was sentenced to three years on 27 September for "insulting the Supreme Leader." Saharkhiz, a veteran journalist, has already reportedly suffered a heart attack while behind bars since he was detained shortly after the elections.

Behind the ludicrous charges is Iran's notorious security agency, the Revolutionary Guards, which was created a few months prior to the country's last election. Amid the mass street protests and state killings that marked the summer of 2009, the Revolutionary Guards announced they were going after a "network" of supposedly incendiary bloggers and journalists that were "urging the population to rebel," says RSF.

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, urged the Iranian regime to consider the geopolitical consequences of its actions at a time when appeals to consciousness seem to fall on dead ears: "Going further into repressing opposition voices and violating public freedoms will only bring about more animosities with the international community at the time Iran is in bad need to keep good relations."

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