Iranian journalist languishes in jail without charge

New York, January 9, 2007-The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned by reports that an Iranian journalist has been held in Tehran’s Evin Prison for more than 40 days without charge.

Ali Farahbakhsh, a former economics and foreign affairs reporter for the banned reformist dailies Yas-e No and Shargh, was detained by security officers after he returned from a civil society conference in Bangkok, Thailand, in November, according to Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, deputy head of the Iranian Journalists Union, and an Iranian news report.

Reports of the detention first emerged on Saturday when the reporter’s parents notified the journalists union. Farahbakhsh, a member of the Iranian Journalists Union, worked most recently for a food magazine.

Security officers interrogated the journalist for 10 days upon his return from Thailand, focusing their questions on the conference and its participants, Shamsolvaezin told CPJ today. Officers then placed Farahbakhsh in a prison section overseen by the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, according to Shamsolvaezin. Farahbakhsh’s parents, who were allowed to visit the reporter, told the journalists union that he had spent a total of 40 days in jail as of Saturday.

Sohrab Soleimani, director of prisons in Tehran province, confirmed that the journalist was in custody, according to the Iranian Students News Agency. No official charges have been filed against Farahbakhsh, but his parents said he was being held on suspicion of espionage, Shamsolvaezin told CPJ. Shamsolvaezin said the reporter has not had access to a lawyer or the journalists union.

The Bangkok conference centered on government and the media, the English-language daily Bangkok Post reported. Few other details about the conference were immediately available.

“We’re alarmed by journalist Ali Farahbakhsh’s extended detention without charge,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We call on Iranian authorities to provide Farahbakhsh with due process or to release him immediately.”

The hard-line government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad continues to turn the screws on press freedom in Iran, intimidating critical journalists into silence or self-censorship. Since 2000, Iranian courts have closed more than 100 publications, most of them reformist, on vague charges of insult and blasphemy, CPJ research shows.

Authorities shuttered Shargh, Iran’s most prominent critical daily, in September because it did not replace Managing Director Mohammad Rahmanian, whom the government accused of publishing blasphemous articles and insulting officials. On October 23, authorities banned the daily Rozegar after one week of publishing because it closely resembled Shargh in appearance. Many of the new daily’s reporters were formerly employed by Shargh.