ANKARA, 21 Oct 2004 (IRIN) - Twenty European news websites have expressed their concern at the recent imprisonment of five Iranian online journalists. They made their stand in a Reporters Without Borders (RSF) appeal over the crackdown against online media in Iran.
"We are always concerned when there are negative effects on journalists when they do their jobs," Holger Hank, editor of the German dw-world.de - the online publication of the Deutsche Welle (DW) international radio and TV service - told IRIN on Thursday from Bonn, showing DW's support, along with other news organisations, for the RSF appeal.
"We strongly support RSF's initiative," Giovanni Dimauro, director of the Italian news site internazionale.it, told IRIN from Rome, praising RSF's efforts in supporting online freedom of expression.
Nuria Labari, an online journalist with the Spanish elmundo.es - a news website of one of the leading media groups in Spain, said that online information should be free as it is more immediate and difficult to control than print or broadcasting media. "Every single person in a democratic regime would support RSF's appeal," she told IRIN.
The 20 leading news websites in Spain, Germany, Italy and France, along with RSF, are calling for the release of Shahram Rafihzadeh, Hanif Mazroi, Rozbeh Mir Ebrahimi, Omid Memarian and Javad Gholam Tamayomi.
However, Jamal Karamirad, spokesman for the Iranian justice ministry, has reportedly said that the journalists will shortly go on trial in the capital, Tehran. RSF reported that the detainees had been denied legal representation and had not been able to see their relatives since they were arrested.
Julien Pain, responsible for the RSF's Internet freedom desk, told IRIN that the authorities had tried to tighten control over the Internet after the elections in February. "They realised the power it has for the opposition," he said.
With eight months to go before the presidential election, RSF noted that the government was censoring thousand of non-Islamic websites and was putting more pressure on online journalists. "They are now trying to spread terror among online journalists," the media freedom NGO stated.
The last detention was made on 18 October in Tehran. Tamayomi, an online journalist with Mardomsalari (Democracy), was arrested after responding to a request from the prosecutor's office. As with his colleagues, he was accused of publishing articles on several reformist websites.
"All the people jailed for expressing, thinking or writing ideas, which differ from the regime, should be set free," Labari said, extending her appeal to the case of all journalists imprisoned in Iran, which has the highest number of jailed media workers in the Middle East.
Echoing her, Holger added that Internet media were difficult to censor and believed that this type of appeal could reach Iranians. "We know there is a very active weblog scene [in Iran] and we are very aware that this information will definitely get into Iran," he said.
In a country where newspapers and broadcast media are subject to strict government censorship, according to RSF, the Internet has become the only independent source of information for Iranians, despite the recent crackdown on online media.
"At the time when the Internet has become one of the main sources of news, protecting online journalists and publications is the key to defending press freedom," the European online media said in their joint statement.
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