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One blogger sentenced to heavy jail term, another arrested

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders condemns the increasing severity of the Iranian regime's persecution of bloggers. One, Hossein Ronaghi Maleki, was given a 15-year jail sentence 10 days ago while another, Mehdi Khazali, the editor of the website Baran ( http://www.drkhazali.com/ ), was arrested on 13 October 2010.

"Like journalists, bloggers have been treated for months as if they are enemies of the regime," Reporters Without Borders said. "But the authorities have now started to impose much harsher sentences on them. Bloggers involved in censorship circumvention are being particularly targeted as they help their fellow citizens to gain access to banned information."

Khazali was arrested on 13 October after responding to a summons to appear before the 4th chamber of the Tehran prosecutor's office. His son said he was threatened earlier the same day by members of the security services who wanted to force him to go directly to Evin prison.

A doctor as well as a blogger, Khazali is the son of Ayatollah Abolghasem Khazali, who has been an influential member of the Council of Guardians of the Iranian Constitution for the past 30 years. Mehdi Khazali has been posting a lot of criticism of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his government on his website Baran ( http://www.drkhazali.com/ ) for more than a year.

He spent 23 days in solitary confinement in Section 209 of Evin prison following a previous arrest on 28 June 2009. He was released on 20 July 2009 on bail of 20 million tomans (approx. 20,000 euros).

Maleki received his 15-year jail sentence from the Tehran revolutionary court's 26th chamber on 5 October, after more than 300 days in solitary confinement. It consists of 11 years for "collaborating with the Iran proxy group" (which helps Iranians to sidestep online censorship), two years for "insulting the Supreme Leader" and two years for insulting the president.

Maleki disputed the charges but, according to his mother, "he was hit in court and forced to sign the verdict." His lawyer, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, confirmed this and said he would appeal against this "unjust" verdict.

Revolutionary Guards arrested Maleki on 13 December 2009 during an "operation to dismantle a counterrevolutionary network." He was alleged to have written and used software to combat filtering and to host and support websites and blogs that defend human rights. He was held incommunicado for several weeks before the authorities confirmed they were holding him.

His sentence is the severest received by an Iranian blogger since the jail term of 19 and a half years that was imposed on Hossein Derakhshan on 28 September.

A total of 27 journalists and nine netizens are currently in prison in Iran.

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