Reporters Without Borders has called for the immediate release of journalist Arash Sigarchi who was arrested on 17 January 2005, after responding to a summons from the intelligence ministry in Rasht in the north of the country.
He had been updating a weblog that has been banned by the authorities, Panhjareh Eltehab (The window of Anguish), in which he had spoken out against recent arrests of cyberjournalists and bloggers.
The worldwide press freedom organisation also called on countries taking part in the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) to officially condemn these repeated breaches of freedom of expression. Iran is due to send a delegation to the next WSIS preparatory meeting in Geneva next month.
Sigarchi is the editor of the daily Gylan Emroz. A few days before his arrest he was interviewed by two foreign radio stations, the BBC World Service and Radio Farda.
He had already been imprisoned for several days, from 27 August 2004, for an article, illustrated with photographs, of a rally in Tehran by families of prisoners who were executed in 1989.
Sigarchi has for nearly three years run a political and cultural weblog www.sigarchi.com/blog, in which he mounted repeated criticism of the regime. He had condemned harassment of journalists arrested in a series of Internet cases (see : www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=12249) and in particular the mistreatment inflicted on his colleagues Shahram Rafihzadeh and Rozbeh Mir Ebrahimi. The authorities have made his blog inaccessible within Iran.
He has been held since 17 January at Lakan Prison in Rashat where he has been denied the right to see a lawyer and bail has been set at 200 million rials (around 20,000 euros). The authorities have put pressure on his mother to deny that her son has been arrested.
Nearly 20 people have been arrested over the past three months in a crackdown against the online press. Apart from Sigarchi, another weblogger, Mojtaba Saminejad, is still in prison.
At the start of January, Tehran's prosecutor-general, Said Mortazavi, ordered Internet Service Providers to block the main weblogs - Orkut, Nedstat, Blogspot, Persianblog, Blogrolling and others. Iranian Internet-users are now almost entirely cut off from the blogsphere.
The WSIS, of which the second phase will be held in Tunis in November 2005, is being organised by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) under UN auspices (See the official site : www.wsis.org) The preparatory meeting (prep com) takes place in Geneva from 17-25 February 2005.
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