Reporters Without Borders expressed outrage after journalist and weblogger Arash Sigarchi was sentenced to 14 years in prison on 22 February by a revolutionary tribunal in Gilan, northern Iran.
The worldwide press freedom organisation called on President Mohammad Khatami to intervene on behalf of 28-year-old Sigarchi, who has been in custody since his arrest on 17 January.
The organisation also called on the delegations of countries attending a preparatory meeting in Geneva ahead of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) to contact their Iranian counterparts to demand Sigarchi's release.
"The authorities are trying to make an example of him. By handing down this harsh sentence against a weblogger, their aim is to dissuade journalists and Internet-users from expressing themselves online or contacting foreign media," it said.
"The Iranian president can no longer wash his hands of this by saying he is not responsible for the arrest, since Sigarchi was arrested by the intelligence ministry which in theory is answerable to the head of state.
"He should therefore intervene quickly to get this weblogger out of prison. Then it should be the duty of delegations attending the UN conference to publicly condemn this sentence. We call on them to show their courage by demonstrating that freedom of expression is at stake at the WSIS," the organisation said.
Sigarchi, who has been held since 17 January in Lakan Prison, Rashat, was sentenced for espionage and insulting the country's leaders but in reality he has been imprisoned for his work as a weblogger and journalist and contributing to American Radio Farda. The Iranian revolutionary tribunals are only supposed to rule on cases of high treason, espionage or counter-revolutionary activity. They should not be used to sentence journalists.
Since Iranian law does not allow a citizen to be sentenced for a political offence, opponents of the regime and journalists are routinely accused of being spies or enemies of the revolution.
Sigarchi, editor of the daily Gylan Emroz, has for the past three years runs a political and cultural blog, www.sigarchi.com/blog, on which he sometimes criticised the regime. The authorities had already blocked access to the site within the country.
He had previously been arrested, on 27 August 2004, and held for several days for posting an article online with photos of a demonstration in Tehran by families of prisoners executed in 1989. Since then he has suffered constant police harassment.
The weblogger had more recently condemned the harassment of journalists arrested in a series of "Internet File" cases (See: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=12343), in particular the mistreatment suffered by his colleagues Shahram Rafihzadeh and Rozbeh Mir Ebrahimi.
The last message on his blog related to the Southeast Asian Tsunami, in which he expressed his solidarity with the victims and said that the Iranian people could not be unmoved by the tragedy.
Another weblogger, Mojtaba Saminejad, and a cyberjournalist, Mojtaba Lofti, also remain in prison (See : http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=12564).
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