European Union / Iran7 January 2009
As holder of EU presidency, Czech government urged to intercede on behalf of jailed bloggers and journalists
Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard wrote yesterday to Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, whose government has just taken over the European Union’s rotating presidency, asking him to do everything possible to obtain the release of the 11 journalists and bloggers currently held in Iran.
“In 2008, the Islamic Republic of Iran maintained its position as the Middle East’s most repressive country towards bloggers and journalists, who face constant harassment,” the letter said. “Five bloggers and six journalists are currently detained because of what they wrote. There has been repeated intimidation of human rights activists since last month. We have on several occasions asked the authorities to release prisoners of conscience and to allow their lawyers to do their work. Because of their silence, we turn to you in the hope that you can transmit our concerns to your counterparts in Tehran.”
Militiamen mobilised by the Revolutionary Guards protested in Tehran at the end of last month against Israel’s Gaza offensive. Around 100 of them demonstrated on 1 January outside the home of Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi, a human rights lawyer, chanting slogans hostile to her and her Human Rights Defenders Centre, which she created in 2002. The police closed the centre on 21 December on the grounds that it did not have interior ministry permission to operate, and they searched her law office on 29 December. The threats to Ebadi’s activities and to her family have been condemned by the United Nations, European Union, United States, Canada and other leading western governments.
The five bloggers whose release was requested are Hossein Derakhshan (http://www.hoder.com), Davoud Azadfar (http://www.azadfarkurd.blogfa.com/), Esmail Jafari (http://www.poutin.blogfa.com), cleric Mojtaba Lotfi and women’s rights activist Shahnaz Gholami (http://azarwomen.blogfa.com). Jafari, Lotfi and Gholami are serving jail sentences ranging from five months to four years. The fate of Derakhshan and Azadfar is unknown.
Of the six journalists held, the most recently arrested was Bahman Totonchi, a former contributor to the weekly Karfto. Intelligence ministry officials went to his home in Sanandaj, the capital of the northwestern province of Kurdistan, on 18 November to carry out the arrest. He is being held in a Sanandaj prison run by the intelligence services and it is not clear what will happen to him. Fellow Sanandaj-based journalist Kaveh Javanmard is serving a two-year sentence that he received from a local court in 17 May 2007.
Mohammad Sadegh Kaboudvand, the former editor of the weekly Payam-e mardom-e Kurdestan, has been held since July 2007 in Tehran’s Evin prison, where he is having serious health problems. On 23 October, a Tehran appeal court confirmed the 11-year prison sentence he was given for creating a human rights organisation in Iran’s Kurdish northwest.
Another Kurdish journalist, freelancer Massoud Kurdpoor, was sentenced to a year in prison on 15 October for speaking out about the deteriorating human rights situation in the Kurdish region in interviews for foreign radio stations such as Voice of America, Radio France Internationale and Deutsche Welle. He was convicted on a charge of “publicity against the government in interviews given to foreign and enemy news media.”
Mohammad Hassin Falahieh Zadeh, a journalist who was sentenced in April 2007 to three years in prison on a spying charge, went on hunger strike from 5 to 19 October to press for a review of his trial. He used to work for the Arabic-language service of state-owned TV station Al-Alam while freelancing for many Arab news media such as the Lebanese daily Al-Mostaqbal, Abu Dhabi TV and Radio Dubai. Arrested in November 2006, he has been held longer than any other journalist currently detained in Iran.
The death sentence imposed on Kurdish journalist Adnan Hassanpour, who has been held for “subversive activities against national security” ever since his arrest outside his home on 25 January 2007, was quashed by the Iranian supreme court on 4 September on the grounds that he could not be regarded as a “mohareb” (enemy of God). His case has been returned to the court that convicted him in the Kurdish city of Sanandaj.