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European Union challenged about Iran, the Middle East's biggest prison for journalists

Reporters Without Borders on June 28 addressed an open letter to the European Union asking about the EU delegation that was in Tehran on 14-15 June taking part in a dialogue about human rights with the Islamic Republic. The organisation criticised the continuing threats against members of the news media and the deterioration in the situation of imprisoned journalists.

"This dialogue, launched in 2001, has not yet led to any decrease in repression but it allows the Iranian regime to maintain 'good relations' with the European countries," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard pointed out in his letter.

"Reporters Without Borders would like to ask you in future to take account of the reports and recommendations provided by the independent and representative organisations of Iranian civil society," the letter said, urging the European Union to adopt a "firm position" with the Iranian authorities as regards putting a stop to the repression.

"We point out that 120 newspapers have been banned since 2001, more than 50 journalists have been detained and 11 are still in detention, making Iran the biggest prison for journalists in the Middle East," the letter continued. "One wonders what to make of the Iranian government's remark on 20 June that it is the European Union that should learn from Iran about human rights."

Eleven journalists are currently in prison :

  • Akbar Ganji, a journalist with Sobh-e Emrouz, held since 22 April 2000
  • Hassan Youssefi Echkevari of Iran-e Farda, held since 5 August 2000
  • Hossein Ghazian of Norooz, held since 31 October 2002
  • Abbas Abdi of Salam, held since 4 November 2002
  • Ali-Reza Jabari of Adineh, held since 17 March 2003
  • Siamak Pourzand, a contributor to several independent newspapers, held since 30 Mars 2003
  • Taghi Rahmani of Omid-e Zangan, held since 14 June 2003
  • Reza Alijani, the editor of Iran-e Farda and winner of the Reporters Without Borders-Fondation de France prize, held since 14 June 2003
  • Hoda Saber, managing editor of Iran-e Farda, held since 14 June 2003
  • Iraj Jamshidi, editor of the business daily Asia, held since 6 July 2003
  • Ensafali Hedayat, a freelance journalist held since 16 January 2004.

On 20 June, the lawyers of Reza Alijani, Taghi Rahmani and Hoda Saber addressed an open letter to the head of the Iranian justice system, Ayatollah Shahroudi, protesting against the irregularity and illegality of their clients' arrests, trials and prison conditions. They described the mistreatment and torture undergone by the clients, reporting that, "They were interrogated, insulted and beaten for hours to make them 'confess' to the charges brought against them." The lawyers also said they never had access to their clients' files, they could not talk to their clients and they received no official notification of their clients' conviction.

Reporters Without Borders is also very concerned about the disappearance of journalist Iraj Jamshidi, who was imprisoned on 6 July 2003. There has been no word of him for some time. On the eve of the visit of UN special rapporteur Ambeyi Ligabo from 4 to 11 November 2003, Jamshidi was transferred from his solitary confinement cell in the basement of Evin prison to a communal cell but was subsequently moved back to the basement. He has received only one visit in almost a year, coinciding with the special rapporteur's visit, and he has still not been tried.

Journalists continue to be summoned and arrested despite the European delegation's visit to Tehran. Emadoldin Baghi, a journalist and rights activist, has been summoned to appear today before the Tehran revolutionary tribunal. Sentenced to three years in prison in October 2000, Baghi has been an active press freedom campaigner since his release last year and has created an organisation that defends prisoners of conscience. As he was given a one-year suspended sentenced on 4 December 2003, he is in danger of being re-imprisoned.

Iranian journalists in exile in Europe continue to be subject to pressure from the Iranian judicial authorities. Such is the case of Sina Motallebi, a journalist with the reformist daily Hayat-e Now and moderator of the website, now in exile in the Netherlands. Motallebi was arrested and held in solitary confinement from 20 April to 12 May for allegedly "jeopardizing national security by means of an artistic activity."

The Iranian authorities have been embarrassed by the accounts of his personal experiences which Motallebi has given since leaving Iran. He has not hesitated to talk about his arbitrary arrest, the ban on his access to a lawyer, the confessions that were extorted from him, and the fact that he was held in secret for several weeks in Evin prison. Motallebi spoke at a press conference on 8 June at Reporters Without Borders headquarters in Paris. The account he gave of his imprisonment was reported by the print media and the Franco-German television station ARTE. His father was summoned by the judicial authorities in Tehran the next day. The authorities have said that if Motallebi does not turn up for his trial, set for 19 July, his father will be required to pay on-the-spot bail of 30 million tomans (about 30,000 euros at the official rate).

... Payvand News - 6/30/04 ... --

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