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'Blogfather,' columnist get heavy prison terms in Iran

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New York, September 28, 2010--The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the government's ongoing offensive against critical journalists in Iran. A Revolutionary Court today sentenced blogger Hossein Derakhshan, left, to 19 and a half years in prison, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran quoted the Farsi news website Mashreq as saying. And on Monday, Iranian authorities informed the lawyer of Issa Saharkhiz, a prominent columnist and founding member of the Association of Iranian Journalists, that he has been sentenced to three years in prison, a five-year ban on political and journalistic activities, and a one-year travel ban, the reformist news website Jonbesh-e Rah-e Sabz reported.

"We condemn the outrageously harsh sentences given to our colleagues Hossein Derakhshan and Issa Saharkhiz and call for their immediate release," said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. "Derakhshan's two-year ordeal has been plagued by countless violations of his rights. This heavy sentence is the final move to silence a prominent critical voice in the international blogging community."

Derakhshan, who is a dual Iranian-Canadian citizen, was detained in late 2008 in connection with comments he allegedly made about a cleric. He spent more than nine months of his detention in solitary confinement at Tehran's Evin Prison. Known as the "Iranian blogfather" because of his pioneering blogging, Derakhshan was charged with "collaborating with hostile governments, creating propaganda against the Islamic regime and propaganda in favor of anti-revolutionary groups, blasphemy, and organizing and managing obscene and vulgar websites." According to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, neither Derakhshan's family nor lawyer were informed about the sentencing and only learned of it by reading the news.

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Saharkhiz was detained in July 2009 shortly following the disputed presidential elections. He has worked as a journalist since the early 1980s, and spent 15 years reporting for the government-run IRNA news agency. He was charged with "insulting the Supreme Leader" and "propagating against the regime," according to Jonbesh-e Rah-e Sabz. In May, Saharkhiz was transferred to a prison in Rajaee Shahr, near Karaj, reformist news website Kalame reported, where he reportedly suffered a heart attack. CPJ was unable to determine his current state of health.

At least 37 journalists remained behind bars in Iran as of June 1, according to CPJ's last census of imprisoned journalists.

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