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UN council urged to reappoint Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran

Reporters Without Borders urges the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to renew the mandate of the Special Representative on the situation of human rights in Iran when it takes a vote on Iran this week.

“The UN Human Rights Council must apply sanctions against Iran for the sake of the physical safety of its journalists and freedom of information,” Reporters Without Borders said. “By renewing the Special Representative's mandate, the Council will help defend journalists who are censored, threatened, detained arbitrarily, mistreated and sometimes tortured just for doing their job.

“Since the Council's last examination of the situation in Iran, in March 2012, more than 10 news media have been closed temporarily or for good and at least 100 journalists and netizens have been summoned for questioning or arrested by the intelligence ministry or Revolutionary Guards.”

Reporters Without Borders added: “Several of these journalists have been subjected to mistreatment and torture during detention. With a total of 46 journalists and netizens currently detained, Iran is one of the world's biggest prisons for media personnel.”

One of the most recent detainees is Mohammad Javad Roh, who works for several reformist newspapers. Released on 17 March, after two weeks in detention, he was one of the latest victims of “Black Sunday,” a wave of arrests of journalists that began on Sunday, 27 January.

Although some of these journalists have since been released, the crackdown on freedom of information is intensifying. The latest report by Ahmed Shaheed, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, paints a grim picture of the situation of the media and imprisoned journalists and netizens.

In a sign of its intransigence towards the international community, the Iranian government refused to let Shaheed visit Iran, describing him as a “mercenary in the pay of the British intelligence services.”

By blocking access to VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) since the start of March, the Islamic Republic is depriving its citizens of the last remaining way to access the international Internet.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government has meanwhile being accelerating the creation of a “National Internet” since last September. Supported by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, this project is a direct result of the Islamic Republic's political considerations and its demonization of the foreign press and news media, especially Twitter and Facebook.

The regime brands such social networks as tools used by western countries to “disseminate their values and increase their influence in the world.”

One of the latest netizens to be detained is Badri Safyari, the editor of the blog Sufi. He was arrested on 6 March by intelligence ministry officials, who search his home and confiscated his computer, hard disks and CD-ROMs. The reason for his arrest is still not known.

Reporters Without Borders has also learned that Iaman Amiri, a netizen studying information technology in Sweden, was arrested on his arrival in Iran on 21 January and has been held ever since. According to his family, he is being pressured to make a televised confession.

Following arrest, journalists and netizens are usually placed in isolation cells and tortured to obtain confessions. Used against them during their trials, these confessions are just filmed extracts of their interrogation that are then broadcast on national TV stations and rebroadcast by the Islamic Republic's English-language Press TV and Arabic-language Al-Alam.

Iran is a glaring example of impunity. The relatives of three news providers who died in detention or in suspicious circumstances – Iran-e-Farda editor Hoda Saber, journalist and human rights activist Haleh Sahabi and the blogger Sattar Beheshti – all learned in recent weeks that their complaints have been closed for good with no action being taken.

Similarly, no one has ever been held responsible for the deaths of four journalists in 1998 – Majid Charif, Mohamad Mokhtari, Mohamad Jafar Pouyandeh and Pirouz Davani – or for the death of 54-year-old Canadian-Iranian photographer Zahra Kazemi, who was arrested on 23 June 2003 and died in detention 17 days later as a result of a severe beating after her arrest.

The same goes for Ayfer Serçe, a Turkish woman journalist of Kurdish origin working for the Firat news agency, who was killed by Iranian soldiers sometime between 20 and 23 July 2006 in Keleres, in Iran's northwestern region of Azerbaijan.

The deaths in detention of the young blogger Omidreza Mirsayafi, who died on 18 March 2009, and former journalist Alireza Eftekhari, 29, who died on 15 June 2009 from a cerebral attack after being beaten, have also gone unpunished.

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