Thursday, February 02, 2006

Iran: Seven provincial journalists arrested for insulting Ayatollah Khomeini

Iran: Seven provincial journalists arrested for insulting Ayatollah Khomeini
Reporters Without Borders today condemned the imprisonment of Elham Afrotan and six other journalists employed by the provincial weekly Tamadone Hormozgan, who were arrested on 29 January for "insulting Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic" and who face heavy prison sentences if not the death penalty.
"We call for the immediate release of these seven journalists and the dismissal of all charges against them," the press freedom organisation said. "It is regrettable and disturbing for press freedom that the media have been taken hostage by politics and clan rivalry and that journalists risk the death penalty for what they put in a newspaper."
Misled by the headline of an article on a website dedicated to combatting AIDS, the staff at Tamadone Hormozgan reproduced it in the newspaper's health section. It turned out to be a satirical piece comparing the advent of Ayatollah Khomeini to AIDS.
The journalists were arrested in the southern city of Bandar Abbas, where the newspaper is based, as soon as the issue appeared on the streets. Pro-government media, governmental organisations and Koranic schools reacted by staging demonstrations that ended with the newspaper's offices being ransacked and torched.
The newspaper's editor, Ali Dirbaz, who is also parliamentary representative for Bandar Abbas, was questioned by the Tehran prosecutor's office and then freed on bail.
The day all this took place happened to be another journalist's 47th birthday and his 148th day in solitary confinement in a special wing of Tehran's Evin prison. The conditions in which Akbar Ganji is being held are deplorable and contrary to all international human rights treaties, and his ill health has been aggravated by a lack of treatment.
Ganji's wife, Massoumeh Shaffi, has written many letters to the judicial authorities ever since he was put in solitary confinement, but they have not responded. Reached by telephone, she told Reporters Without Borders that officials at the Tehran prosecutor's office have forbidden her to give any interviews or inform the press about her husband's release, which is due to take place at the start of the Iranian New Year in 50 days' time.

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