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Black month for Iran's journalists

Reporters Without Borders today condemned a wave of summonses being issued to journalists at the intelligence ministry's behest as well as other press freedom violations in the course of a month that has been especially tough for the Iranian media.

"We call on the intelligence ministry to stop harassing and intimidating journalists with all these summonses," the press freedom organisation said. "It is unacceptable that a country's intelligence agencies take it upon themselves to try to dictate what journalists must write."

At least 10 journalists have been summoned for questioning, in the course of which they have been advised not to criticise the new government headed by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. They have also been "asked" not to write articles on sensitive issues such as Iran's nuclear programme.

Reporters Without Borders today also called for the immediate release of Madh Amadi and Masoud Bastani, who have been imprisoned since the summer on trumped-up charges, and condemned the beating which sports photographer Heshmatollah Bahadory received from a policeman on 14 November

"The detention of Amadi and Bastani is utterly arbitrary," the organisation said. "It is time for the Iranian courts to stop systematically targetting journalists."

A freelance journalist who works for several news media, Amadi was arrested on 28 July in the Sarvabad border area after visiting the Kurdish part of neighbouring Irak. He was sentenced by a court in Marivan, in Iran's Kurdish-dominated northwestern region, to a year in prison and 50 lashes for "leaving the country illegally."

The reason for his arrest is not known, but it could be linked to his investigation of a massacre of residents in the village of Garna (in the Kurdish part of Iran) in the 1980s. Many documents about the massacre which he had collected were seized at the time of his arrest.

Amadi was due to have been freed on bail yesterday but, against all expectation, the court opposed his released. In protest, he immediately went on hunger strike and sowed up his mouth. He is scheduled to appear before the court again soon in connection with other charges.

Bastani, the young editor of Nedai Eslahat (a daily that was closed by the authorities in 2003) and a contributor to such pro-reform newspapers as Etemad, Toseeh and Joumhoryat, was arrested on 25 July outside Milad hospital in Tehran while covering a demonstration in support of imprisoned fellow journalist Akbar Ganji.

He was convicted of libel in 2003 and was sentenced to six months in prison, 70 lashes and a five-year ban on practising journalism. But he was released after spending a few days in Arak prison, in the centre of the country.

The authorities say he has been sent back to prison to finish serving the 2003 sentence. But as the plaintiffs have withdrawn their libel suit, there is no longer any case against him. The state prosecutor in Arak recently banned Bastani from talking to the judge in charge of the case. After being allowed out of prison for a month, Bastani had to return to Arak prison on 5 November.

Bahadory, who works for the daily Pirozy and the news website, was attacked by a police officer for no apparent reason while covering a football match in Tehran stadium on 14 November and had to spend several days in the intensive care unit of Atyer hospital.

Reporters Without Borders said it called on the Tehran police chief to keep his promise to punish the police officer involved.

... Payvand News - 11/24/05 ... --

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