Reporters Without Borders called today for the immediate release of reformist Iranian Arab journalist Yosef Azizi Banitrouf, who was arrested in a raid on his home on 25 April. It also demanded the release of dissident journalist Reza Alijani, expressing "great concern" about his deteriorating health after two years in prison.
"We strongly deplore the arrest of Banitrouf, who was simply expressing his personal opinion in articles and in interviews given to other newspapers," it said. "As soon as a journalist speaks out in Iran, the authorities crack down, either by closing the paper concerned or throwing the journalist in prison.
"There are now 12 journalists and cyber-dissidents in jail in Iran, which remains the Middle East's biggest prison for journalists."
Eight plainclothes agents raided Banitrouf's home and seized all his papers, his computer and telephone address book. The agents said they had a warrant but refused to show it to his wife or say where they were taking him, though he is thought to be in Teheran's Evin prison along with most of the country's other jailed journalists. After giving interviews to the national and international media a few hours after he was taken away, his wife received threatening phone calls from one of the agents who told her not to talk to the media.
The arrest came after ethnic clashes on 15 April in the southern region of Khuzistan between security forces and the majority Arab community there. Banitrof is a leading Arab intellectual in Iran and had defended the protesters and condemned the violence. He worked for 12 years for the daily Persian-language paper Hamshari bu was sacked when hardliners took it over. He now writes for several other papers.
Reporters Without Borders said Alijani's respiratory problems had worsened because of the harsh conditions of his detention. Officials at Evin prison have refused to give him medical treatment he urgently needs despite pleas from his wife. The worldwide press freedom organisation called for immediate release so he could be cared for by doctors
He has been in Evin prison since 14 June 2003 and began a hunger-strike a week ago, on 20 April. However he was too weak to keep it up longer than three days after losing a lot of weight. He has already lost eight kgs.
Reporters Without Borders set up a programme more than 15 years ago to get international media to adopt imprisoned journalists and publicise their plight to ensure they are not forgotten. More than 200 media outlets around the world currently sponsor such journalists and regularly urge governments to release them.
Alijani has been adopted by Geneve Home Information, Ottawa Citizen, 93.3 (Radio Québec), "La presse dans tous ses états" (CIBL), Mozaik Media, El periodico de Catalunya, Aldaketa Hamasei-Cambio 16, La Voz del Occidente, REE and McGill Daily.
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