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Iran: From trials behind closed doors to sit-ins


Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontieres) has appealed for a halt to closed-doors trials of journalists in Iran and demanded the release of journalists who have been unfairly imprisoned.

Iranian judiciary spokesman Golamhossein Elham confirmed on 15 October that three journalists, arrested on 14 June 2003 - Taghi Rahmani of Omid-é-Zangan and Reza Alijani and Hoda Saber both of Iran-e-Farda - "were serving prison terms." But the spokesman gave no reasons for their imprisonment nor the date or place of their trials. Their lawyers and families have had no news of them for 40 days apart from the fact that they had reportedly started a hunger strike and were still held in solitary confinement.

"It is unacceptable for the Iranian courts to almost systematically hold trials behind closed doors. Journalists are arrested and then disappear into Iranian jails with nobody knowing if trials have been held, when or where, or most importantly why," protested Robert Ménard, secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders.

"Neither the families nor the lawyers are allowed to visit those in detention. The only thing it is possible to verify is that they are being held in solitary confinement. It is high time that Iran respected the most basic rules of law. "The only course open to the families of journalists to protest against the violation of their human rights is to hold sit-ins or hunger strikes," he said.

The lawyer for the three journalists, Mr Soltani, has still not been able to consult with his clients. He particularly fears closed-door trials, which "constitute a serious violation of national and international law". The families of the three journalists have joined the family of journalist Abbas Abdi, who was arrested on 4 November 2002, in a sit-in that began five days ago in front of the UN office in Teheran.

The statement from the judiciary spokesman comes at a time when Iranian civil society is increasingly rallying to condemn attacks on press freedom and arbitrary jailing of journalists. More than 100 lawyers, students and reformist activists went on hunger strike on 20 October both in Teheran and in major provincial cities.

Even Mohsen Kadivar of the clerical reformist movement commented on this occasion : "The hardliners of the regime have turned Iran into the Middle East's biggest prison for journalists and political activists."

Elsewhere, Reporters Without Borders has also condemned the closure of the weekly newspaper Avay-e kordestan (Song of Kurdistan), banned by the Sanandaj revolutionary court in Kurdistan province. It is the first time that a Kurdish-language newspaper has been banned in Iran. The judiciary has given no explanation for the ban.

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