Reporters Without Borders today condemned a crackdown on cyber-journalists and bloggers in the southern city of Qom where Mojtaba Lotfi, who is serving a nearly four-year sentence for articles he posted on the Internet, is gravely ill in prison and where local courts are harassing two bloggers, Farid Farid Modaressi and Mohamad Reza Fathi.
"Writing about politics or even social issues is an act of bravery in Iran, especially as the local authorities are now taking over the role of gagging bloggers from the central government," the press freedom organization said.
"For this reason, we hail the human rights report which has just been adopted by the European parliament and which condemns Iran's 'abject policies' towards journalists and cyber-dissidents," the organization added.
A teacher, Fathi was first summoned on 26 March by Edareh Amaken (a police office who specializes in investigating vice) and interrogated about his blog, www.savehjam.blogspot.com, in which he has criticized the provincial government and the mayor of Saveh, near Qom. In a letter to President Mohammad Khatami, he voiced exasperation at the "scant capacity of civil servants to accept criticism."
The local police arrested him nine days later in the street, in front of his students, and paraded him handcuffed through the city. He was held for three days and was questioned again in a secret session without his lawyer being present. On his release, he was resigned to closing down his blog, despite its local popularity. Nonetheless, he will have to appear before the local judicial authorities again on various charges including publishing false information, insult, and disturbing the peace.
Modaressi, a blogger who was already imprisoned for a month at the end of last year, has received a summons to appear before a court in Qom on 14 May on charges of "insulting regime officials" in comments about the president and others in his blog, http://farid.blogset.com. He has also been summoned to appear before a Tehran court on 10 May on a charge of "attacking state security."
Reporters Without Borders has learned that the health of Lotfi, a cyber-journalist and Qom resident, has seriously deteriorated since he was sentenced to three years and 10 months in prison in February. The conditions inside the prison have reportedly aggravated a lung ailment he has had since being exposed to chemical warfare during the Iran-Iraq war.
In its report on human rights worldwide in 2004, that was approved on 28 April, the European parliament condemned Iran's "abject policies" as regards the arrest and imprisonment of journalists and cyber-dissidents and violations of press and media freedom.
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