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Authorities responsible for death of dissident Hoda Saber, says RSF

The Iranian authorities are responsible for the death of jailed journalist and dissident Hoda Saber, who died of a heart attack on 10 June after going on hunger strike, says Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Saber, who was in his 50s, began his strike on 2 June to protest the death of opposition figure Haleh Sahabi, during an incident at the funeral of her activist father.

According to public statements by Hoda's sister, Saber suffered a heart attack at early on 10 June, but prison officials failed to transfer him to a hospital from Tehran's notorious Evin Prison for six hours. According to RSF, his family learned about his death two days later on the Internet.

"The authorities who arbitrarily arrested him failed to give him proper medical treatment. We support the family's complaint and demand that the prison deaths of all journalists and political prisoners in Iran be investigated," said RSF.

In a shocking revelation, 64 political prisoners held in the same ward as Saber provided a detailed account on 13 June of how Saber had been beaten up by state agents right before his death and that he had not suffered from any health conditions or illness in the past year.

According to his fellow inmates, two hours after being taken to the prison clinic on 10 June, Saber was returned to his cell and cried out that he had been beaten instead of receiving medical treatment, and that he would file a complaint. A few hours later he was sent to Modares Hospital, where he died.

"We firmly state that the current [political] establishment is directly responsible for the death of martyr Saber. This heart-breaking incident is not the first of its kind, and as things stand, it will not be the last either," said the inmates.

Saber was jailed in July 2010, along with hundreds of other activists and intellectuals in the wake of Iran's disputed June 2009 re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He had also served several prison terms since 2000.

Haleh Sahabi died on 1 June during a confrontation with security forces at the funeral of her father, Ezatollah Sahabi. She had been allowed out of prison to attend the ceremony. There are reports that she was hit by security forces and died of a heart attack.

"We are concerned, and the international community should be concerned, about the vulnerability of hundreds of political prisoners in Iran, any of whom could fall victim to wilful neglect by the authorities," said the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

Prior to Saber's death, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) had documented cases where jailed journalists were punished for speaking out about abuse while in detention.

Take journalist and blogger Mehdi Mahmoudian, who is serving a five-year prison sentence at the Rajaee Shah prison in Karaj for documenting abuse and rape of detainees at the now defunct Kahrizak Detention Center. In a letter last year to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, he detailed torture, drug abuse and forced sex among prison inmates, among other degradations.

When the letter was made public recently, prison authorities transferred Mahmoudian to solitary confinement for 10 days and banned him from having visitors for three months, reports CPJ.

In another punitive move, guards repeatedly bashed the head of imprisoned journalist Massoud Bastani into a wall on 2 June after a family visit went a minute longer than the allotted time, reports CPJ. Bastani worked for the reformist newspaper "Farhikhteganand" and the reformist news website Jomhoriyat until his arrest in July 2009.

"These journalists should not be in prison in the first place but while they are there the authorities have a duty to ensure their safety and well-being," said CPJ.

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