In Iran, journalists remain in government's crosshairs

Derakhshan (Creative Commons)

New York, June 15, 2011--Iran's ongoing assault against independent and opposition media has recently gained momentum, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. In recent weeks, a journalist died in custody for what his family said was a lack of adequate medical care, the government sentenced another journalist to 20 years in prison, arrested one more, and confirmed a 19 and a half year prison term for a blogger known as the "Blogfather." 

Hoda Saber, editor of the long-defunct magazine Iran-e Farda, died in Evin Prison after suffering a heart attack on Friday, news and human rights reports said. The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran reported that Saber's wife, Fariden Jamshidi, said that hospital personnel told her that her husband's life "could have been saved had prison officials brought him earlier." Saber had the attack around 4 a.m., but was not moved to a hospital until after 10 a.m., according to news reports.

Saber had begun a hunger strike on June 2 to protest the killing of another journalist and activist, Haleh Sahabi, who died from a violent punch by security personnel at her father's funeral the previous day. Saber had been imprisoned in Evin since July in relation to his political activism, CPJ research shows.

According to one account, 64 prisoners in Evin's Ward 350, reserved for political prisoners, issued a statement saying that Saber was severely beaten at the prison infirmary where he was initially taken in the early morning on Friday, the reformist news website Kaleme reported. Saber "was returned to ward 350 in severe pain...his screams woke up all his cellmates," the prisoners wrote.

In a related matter, Kavyan Mehregan, a journalist who writes for reformist publications including the daily Sharq, was arrested at Saber's funeral, which took place on Tuesday, local news websites reported.

"Iranian authorities show a pervasive disregard for the physical integrity and wellbeing of imprisoned journalists," said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Mohamed Abdel Dayem. "Hoda Saber never should have died, and the Iranian authorities must ensure that imprisoned journalists have access to adequate medical treatment and humane conditions."

Sakhi Rigi, a blogger, political activist, and formerly a member of opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi's campaign staff, was sentenced to a 20-year prison term by a Revolutionary Court in Zahedan in Baluchistan province, according to local news reports. CPJ could not determine when the Revolutionary Court ruled on Rigi's case.

Rigi, from the repressed Baluch ethnic minority, regularly wrote on his blog about politics and Iran's treatment of the Baluch. He was convicted on charges of "acting against national security" and "propagating against the regime," according to local news websites. Rigi's online writings were used as evidence against him in the trial, local blogs reported.

The blogger was first arrested by plainclothes security forces on June 18, 2009, according to blogs that cover Baluchi minority rights. He is currently being held at Karun Prison in Ahvaz, hundreds of miles away from his family.  

A Tehran appeals court confirmed blogger Hossein Derakhshan's 19 and a half year prison sentence, his family said on Thursday. The appeals court upheld his conviction on charges of "working with hostile governments, propaganda against the state, and insulting religious sanctities," according to local and international news reports. Derakhshan's sentence was announced in September, along with a five-year ban on "membership in political parties and activities in the media," CPJ research shows. He is known as the "Blogfather" for being one of the first bloggers active in Iran.

June 15, 2011 5:46 PM ET |

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