Internet writers imprisoned, harassment continues

New York, February 24, 2005
—The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned by the Iranian government’s months-long crackdown on Internet writers who disseminate information and opinion on Web logs, also known as blogs. One writer who may have been detained for his postings has been sentenced to 14 years in prison, and at least one other blogger, possibly two, remain imprisoned.

Arash Sigarchi, a blogger and editor of a newspaper in his home province of Gilan in northern Iran, was convicted of espionage, propaganda against the state, and insulting leaders by a revolutionary court. It is unclear when the court sentenced Sigarchi, though his lawyer made the news public on Tuesday, February 22, according to press reports.

Sigarchi had been imprisoned since January 17 on orders of the Ministry of Security and Intelligence, according to CPJ sources. Agence France-Presse reported that prior to his arrest, Sigarchi had given interviews to the BBC and the U.S. government–funded Radio Farda.

Another blogger currently imprisoned is Mojtaba Saminejad, who has been jailed since February 12, according to CPJ sources. Saminejad was previously detained in November 2004 and released this January. CPJ sources say they are unaware of any charges filed against Saminejad, but that his detention possibly stems from critical material published on his blog.

CPJ sources also confirmed that in early February, Mojtaba Lotfi, a cleric, was convicted of publishing lies and harming the state by the Special Court for the Clergy in his hometown of Qom. He was sentenced to three years and 10 months in prison. The charges stemmed from Lotfi’s postings on his Web site, according to CPJ sources. However, there are conflicting reports about whether Lotfi has begun serving his sentence.

In 2004, after largely gutting the country’s reformist printed press, Iranian authorities began cracking down on the Internet in an effort to counter its growing influence. The powerful judiciary launched a pointed offensive against Internet journalists and news bloggers, whose popularity has grown as sources of dissident news and opinion. Several other bloggers, including Mahboubeh Abasghalizadeh, Fereshteh Qadi, Reza Mir Ebrahimi, Omid Memarian, Amir Mojiri, and Hanif Mazrui, were detained during a crackdown that began last September. According to CPJ sources, none of the bloggers were officially charged, and all of them were eventually released. But sources say the bloggers still receive summonses and are harassed by authorities.

Most released bloggers claim to have been tortured in custody. Iranian President Mohamed Khatami has ordered an investigation into the allegations, but sources in Iran say they believe that little will come of the investigations.