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Reporters Without Borders condemns unfair trial and illegal imprisonment of journalists in Iran

Reporters Without Borders has condemned a one-year jail sentence against journalist Mohsen Sazgara as unfair and contrary to international legal norms. It also spoke out against the arbitrary imprisonment of three journalists since nine months.

Sazgara learned from his lawyer on 8 March that his appeal trial had been heard while he was abroad seeking urgent medical attention, the international press freedom organisation said.

"Yet again this is a completely illegal procedure," Sazgara told Reporters Without Borders. "The Iranian authorities gave me permission to leave the country and waited until I was no longer in Iran to announce this so-called verdict in a trial held in the absence of both the lawyer and the person being sentenced." "I intend to return to Iran as soon as possible to respond to this farce," he added.

Sazgara was imprisoned on 15 June and then released on bail of six billion rials (about 580,000 euros) on 6 October 2003. A week before his release he had been charged with "undermining national security", "insulting the Guide of the Islamic Revolution" and "making propaganda against the state" and sentenced to one year in prison. During his 110 days of imprisonment he twice went on hunger strike for 56 and then 23 days to protest against government repression.

He was one of the founders of the reformist press in Iran and was publisher of the dailies Jameh, Neshat and Tous, now banned and the creator of the site : (shut down after his arrest). A courageous political analyst, he wrote, "the past five years have shown that the country's religious rulers are neither reformable nor effective". He also called the Guide of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Khamenei "dictatorial", which earned him several stays in Iranian prisons.

On the eve of Sazgara's arrest, on 14 June 2003, three other journalists - Taghi Rahmani, of the weekly Omid-e-Zangan, Reza Alijani, editor in chief of the monthly Iran-e-Farda and winner of the Reporters Without Borders - Fondation de France 2001 press freedom award, and Hoda Saber, a manager of Iran-e-Farda were jailed for "holding secret meetings with students". Held for months in solitary confinement, deprived of visits from their lawyers and families, they passed the legal deadline for temporary detention on 6 December 2003.

Narges Mohammadi, the wife of Taghi Rahmani, has spoken about her distress at the situation that violates the most basic principles of law. "They are in prison illegally, without charge, without sentence and without trial," she told Reporters Without Borders. "When we try to get information about their cases, we get no reply and their lawyers do not even have access to their files."

The organisation also condemns ongoing harassment of the press, with the banning of the weekly Qalam-e Moalem accused of carrying news about a major teachers' strike, and of the weekly Vaght for "offending against good morals". The managing editor Shahram Mohammad Nia, was given a six-month suspended sentence.

With 11 journalists behind bars, Iran is the Middle East's biggest prison for journalists

... Payvand News - 3/12/04 ... --

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