Iran arrests seven journalists over satirical article

New York, February 16, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the arrest of seven Iranian journalists over a satirical article and is deeply concerned by an unconfirmed report that one of them has died in jail.

Elham Afroutan and six other journalists of the weekly newspaper Tammadon-e Hormozgan were detained in the southern city of Bandar Abbas on January 29, according to CPJ sources and Amnesty International. A spokesperson for the Iranian Committee for the Defense of Freedom of the Press said the organization had received unconfirmed reports that Afroutan had died in custody. CPJ is investigating the report.

The journalists have not had access to their families, lawyers or medical treatment, Amnesty International said. They have not been charged.

“We are deeply alarmed by these arrests,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “The incommunicado detention of these journalists makes it impossible for us to verify this very worrying allegation that one of the journalists has died in custody.”

Violent protests broke out in Bandar Abbas after the paper published an article criticizing the Iranian leadership, including Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic. Demonstrators burned down the newspaper’s offices and authorities closed down the weekly saying it had violated Iran’s press laws.

The Tehran Prosecutor’s Office questioned Ali Dirbaz, editor of Tammadon-e Hormozgan and member of parliament for Bandar Abbas, and released him on bail. The following day he denied knowing the article had been published and called for the execution of the journalist responsible for the article, according to a report by the Prague-based, Farsi-language radio station Radio Farda.

While no formal charges are yet known to have been brought against the journalists under Iran’s penal code they could face flogging and lengthy prison sentences for insulting Ayatollah Khomeini or the Office of the Supreme Leader.