Reporters Without Borders condemned government hounding of the press after an independent journalist was given a six-month suspended sentence, a daily newspaper was suspended and nine journalists summoned.
A high court in Tehran on 1st March upheld a suspended jail term imposed in March 2004 against Mohammad Hassan Alipour, editor of the daily Aban, along with a two-year ban from working. He could end up serving the sentence since he is being questioned in a new case.
The daily Nedai Azarabadegan was suspended for two months by a court in East Azerbaijan Province in north-east Iran while nine journalists in Iranian Kurdistan were summoned to appear before the courts.
"On the eve of the 61st session of the UN Commission on Human Rights, Iran has yet again distinguished itself as one of the most repressive countries in terms of press freedom. The summonses and suspended prison terms act like a sword of Damocles over the heads of journalists who fail to censor themselves.
"At the least article seen as blasphemous, the authorities summon journalists to put them in prison or prevent them from working," said the worldwide press freedom organisation.
"With nine journalists imprisoned, Iran remains the Middle East's biggest prison for the profession. More than a dozen newspapers were suspended in 2004 either temporarily or permanently and at least 60 journalists were summoned by the authorities," it added.
The head of Tehran's judiciary, Abbas Ali Alizadeh, said on 28 February that Iran's chief justice, Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi Shahroudi, had given instructions that "journalists should not be treated like criminals". However the following day, Tehran prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi, denied it, saying he had received "no order to halt suspensions of newspapers".
Daily Nedai Azarabadegan received its two-month suspension order from a court in East Azerbaijan Province around ten days ago. It was also ordered to pay a fine of 3 million rials (around 257 euros).
Several official bodies had laid complaints against the paper for "publishing false reports" after it had criticised the management of some ministers and exposed several cases of corruption. Its editor, Abolfazel Vesali, said, "All this harassment is aimed at silencing an independent and critical newspaper".
In a separate case, nine journalists were summoned before a court in Sanandaj, in Iranian Kurdistan, western Iran for "publishing false reports" and "blasphemy". They were the former editor of the Payam-e mardom-e Kurdestan, Mohammad Sadegh Kabovand, and eight of his journalists, Tonya Kabovand, Ejlal Ghavami, Namo Hedayati, Yosef Azizi, Kaveh Hosinpanahi, Jahangir Hashemi Jamsid Vaziri, Hasan Amini and Majid Mohamadi. The authorities published summons notices in the local newspapers, saying that the journalists had gone into hiding, without even attempting to send summonses to their homes. Some of the journalists had previously been threatened with arrest in June 2004, when the newspaper was suspended.
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