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New spate of arrests, including of a film crew, on bogus "conspiracy" charges

The wheels of injustice sped up again in Iran in the last few weeks with a new round of arrests of journalists and filmmakers and the handing down of an 11-year sentence to an ailing human rights defender.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says at least 16 journalists were arrested in August and September, seven of whom worked with Majzooban Nor, a website that supports Iraq's Sufi population. Some have been held in solitary confinement or otherwise mistreated, RSF says.

In just one example of the torture prisoners face, journalist Issa Saharkhiz's son says his father was attacked by two prisoners who were rewarded with drugs by guards for the assault, reports the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

In addition, six documentary filmmakers were falsely arrested in connection with a BBC documentary on Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that they had nothing to do with, say CPJ and Human Rights Watch. In what has become a routine tactic, CPJ reports, the Iranian government fabricated a conspiracy in an attempt to discredit both the documentary and the unconnected filmmakers.

Among the five men and one woman arrested is Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, who made a film this year with director Jafar Panahi entitled "This is not a film" while Panahi was under house arrest. Mirtahmasb was prevented from leaving Iran to introduce the film at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, according to festival organisers. The film itself was smuggled out of Iran in a cake, and previewed first at Cannes.

On 28 September, journalist Narges Mohammadi, who has been in ill health since her arrest, was given an 11-year prison sentence in relation to her work with Iran's Defenders of Human Rights Centre (DHRC), reports RSF. Human Rights Watch also reports that lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani, who co-founded the DHRC with Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi, was arbitrarily arrested on 10 September.

Also in September, cleric, blogger and website editor Ahmad Reza Ahmadpour received a four-year sentence for disseminating "false information" and "attacking the government," says RSF.

RSF notes that many prisoners of conscience are forced to admit to false crimes or falsely testify against others in the terrifying prison environment. According to the "Guardian", there have been two suspicious suicides by bloggers under such pressure in September.

In an isolated case of good news, U.S. hikers Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer were released on bail this month after heated international pressure, reports CPJ. Bauer is a journalist who was not on assignment at the time of his arrest.

On the occasion of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's appearance before the UN General Assembly in New York in September, Human Rights Watch urged member states to "press the Iranian leader to allow the newly appointed UN special envoy on Iran and independent human rights organisations to visit the country."

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