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Seven journalists arrested in less than one week

As Iran began a round of discussions with the international community on its nuclear programme in recent months, it has stepped up attacks on the media, living up to its reputation as the world's leading jailer of journalists. Police raided the office of Iran's flagship reformist paper, "Shargh", twice on 7 December and beat and arrested four of its journalists, report the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), ARTICLE 19 and Index on Censorship. Three more journalists have been arrested since then, on top of more news of abusive treatment endured by Iranian prisoners.

An unidentified journalist with the daily "Shargh" told the U.S.-government funded Radio Farda that he thinks the paper was stormed because of an upcoming issue on Student Day, which commemorates the 1953 day when Iranian students demonstrated against the U.S.-backed coup. It is now used as a day to demonstrate against foreign interference and the government. Intelligence ministry agents arrested two more "Shargh" journalists on 12 December. The paper has been suspended several times since its launch in 2002.

On 9 December, Amir Hadi Anvari, a financial journalist for the suspended daily "Etemad", was arrested. Then on 12 December, Mashaallah Shamsolvaezin, spokesperson for the Association of Iranian Journalists and the Iranian Committee for the Defence of Freedom of Press, and editor of several reformist dailies closed in 1998-2000, was sentenced to 16 months in prison for "insulting the president of the Republic".

"I was sentenced to one year in prison on the charge of undermining the establishment for giving interviews to foreign TV networks and news agencies," Shamsolvaezin told Agence France-Press. "I was also given a four-month sentence for calling Ahmadinejad a megalomaniac in an interview with Al-Arabiya TV which the prosecutors misinterpreted as crazy and so insulting the president."

In October, RSF wrote to the foreign ministers of Germany, China, United States, France, Britain and Russia, urging them to raise the topic of freedom of expression in Iran during their nuclear talks. The letter mentioned "the long jail sentences recently passed on the bloggers Hossein Ronaghi Maleki and Hossein Derakhshan."

According to news reports, Derakhshan, an Iranian-Canadian, was temporarily freed on bail of US$1.5 million on 9 December. He was returned to jail after spending less than 48 hours with his family.

Once incarcerated, prisoners are treated cruelly. "The government is going out of its way to physically and mentally harm the dozens of journalists it has behind bars even as it continues to round up more," said CPJ.

Issa Saharkhiz, a founding member of the now-defunct Association of Iranian Journalists, endured a complex surgery in the prison infirmary because prison authorities would not allow him to be transferred to a hospital. Saharkhiz, who worked for 15 years at IRNA, Iran's official news agency, was arrested in July 2009.

On 5 December Emadeddin Baghi turned himself in to authorities at Tehran's Evin Prison to begin serving a seven-year prison term, despite serious health issues that occurred because of his previous prison stint. A veteran defender of prisoners' rights, he has been hospitalised numerous times.

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