Friday, September 12, 2008, Thursday September 11 2008: Tehran targets journalists

The Iranian authorities are cracking down on media freedom, especially reporters who dare to cover the persecution of ethnic minorities

Peter Tatchell,, Thursday September 11 2008 20:00 BST
Article history
The escalating persecution of journalists in Iran is symptomatic of the regime's fundamental weakness, despite its macho posturing and tyrannical repression.

President Ahmadinejad and his clerical cronies are afraid. They have concluded that censorship of the media is necessary to save their ugly regime. They are also prepared to jail and, in some cases, execute reporters who dare to tell the truth about their tyranny.

In one sense, Ahmadinejad is right. The truth is dangerous. If Iranians knew about the massive scale of human rights abuses by their government it would arouse huge popular discontent.

For this reason, Tehran is determined to keep people in the dark. It dare not allow the open flow of news and information. Such openness would reveal the full extent of its savage misrule, including the torture of students, arrest of trade union leaders, beating of peaceful protesters and suppression of women's rights campaigners.

Much of Ahmadinejad's most brutal suppression is heaped on the country's minority nationalities, such as the Arabs, Balochs and Kurds. Most Iranians would be aghast if they knew about the barbarism of Tehran's ethnic persecution. Knowing the facts could spark an uprising. That's why Ahmadinejad is clamping down.

Six of the seven journalists currently in prison in Iran are of Kurdish or Arab origin. The latest reporter to fall foul of Tehran's information management and repression is the leading Ahwazi Arab journalist Yousef Azizi Bani Torouf. According to Iran Human Rights Voice and Reporters Without Borders, he was sentenced to five years imprisonment on charges of "acting against national security", "incitement to rebellion" and "relations with foreign officials". These charges relate to his condemnation of the extreme, often indiscriminate, state violence used to crush the mass protests of the anti-government Ahwazi intifada of April 2005.

Azizi's lawyer, Saleh Nickbakht states that his trial was unfair and that "the alleged charge against him is incompatible with the facts and reality."

Azizi is a highly acclaimed writer and has had numerous books published in both Arabic and Farsi, with a particular focus on the Arab peoples of Iran's south-west province of Khuzestan (known by the Arabs as al-Ahwaz). He is a board member of the Iranian Writers Association.

Some hardliners within the Tehran regime have falsely accused him of supporting independence for the Arab population, who comprise a majority in Khuzestan. Azizi has, in fact, repeatedly stated that the "Arabs of Khuzestan, as a nation or an ethnic group (or whatever you like to call it), are inseparable parts of the Iranian nation."

Azizi was originally arrested on April 25 2005, 10 days after the mass demonstrations that swept Khuzestan in protest against Tehran's quasi-colonialist impoverishment and ill-treatment of the Arab population, which I helped expose in an article for Labour's leftwing weekly Tribune magazine.

He was, at the time of this intifada, living in Tehran. His arrest came after he had spoken out against the regime's brutal suppression of the protests at a press conference attended by lawyer and human rights defender Shirin Ebadi.

Iranian police and soldiers had shot dead scores of unarmed Ahwazi Arab civilians. Azizi called for a halt to the bloodshed. Other prominent Arabs, including former Majlis member Jasem Tamimi Shadidzadeh, also condemned the state violence against Arab protesters.
After spending 65 days in the notorious Evin prison, during time which he staged a hunger strike with other inmates, Azizi was temporarily released on a 1bn rial bail.

President Ahmadinejad's regime has now decided to imprison him, amid a general clampdown on journalists and media that don't toe the strict pro-government line. This clampdown has led to the temporary closure of even some of the conservative media, including the Baztab website and the semi-official Fars News Agency. They were accused by the state censors of publishing material that was supposedly critical of President Ahmadinejad.

Although Azizi has been sentenced to only five years imprisonment, his life is in danger. Other journalists have found that once convicted, they are often subsequently charged with further crimes, until the regime can ensure that they either are jailed for life or executed.
One notable example of this tactic was Yaghub Mehrnahad, a 28-year-old journalist, human rights and cultural activist from Iran's oppressed Baloch minority. His crime? Criticising the Persian supremacist regime's mistreatment of the Baloch ethnic group.

Mehrnahad was the founder of the Sedaye Edalat (Voice of Justice) non-governmental organisation, which was recognised and registered by the Iranian government. It organised events such as music concerts and educational courses for young Balochs. However, Ahmadinejad's men claimed Mehrnahad had links with the Baloch resistance group, Jundullah (Army of God).

Amnesty International was one of the many human rights organisations urging clemency and appealing for Mr Mehrnahad's release. Their pleas were ignored. He was subjected to escalating charges and months of torture. Eventually, he was sentenced to death and executed last month.

There are fears that Azizi is likely to share the same fate as Mehrnahad, unless his sentence and conviction are quashed.

A similar case is the imprisonment of Mohammad Sadiq Kabudvand, Kurdish journalist on June 22 this year, on charges of "acting against national security." This charge was in response to his Kurdish rights writing and activism. He is
chair of the Kurdish Human Rights Organization (RMMK) and was also the editor of Payam-e Mardom-e Kurdestan (Kurdistan People's Message), a weekly published in Kurdish and Persian, which was banned on June 27 2004 after only 13 issues for "disseminating separatist ideas and publishing false reports." He was originally given an 18 month suspended sentence but, following months of torture in Section 209 of Evin Prison, this sentence has been progressively lengthened to 11 years jail. Kabudvand's life is now also in danger. There are fears that he, too, will soon face capital charges.

Several other Iranian-Kurdish journalists are currently detained, including Kaveh Javanmard, Adnan Hassanpour, Abdulvahed Butimar and Ejlal Qavami.

Adnan Hassanpour was sentenced to death last year at a secret revolutionary court hearing, which was a travesty of justice, according to human rights defenders. He is a journalist and former editor of the now-defunct Kurdish-Persian weekly "Aso" in Iran's north-western province of Kurdistan. In a rare victory for justice, his death sentence was overturned. But now he is being retried on the capital charges of espionage and working with outlawed parties.

In Ahmadinejad's paranoid mindset, even green campaigners and writers are now deemed a threat to national security. The Iranian-Kurdish environmental activist and journalist, Abdulvahed Butimar, was convicted and sentenced to death at the same time as Hassanpour. His sentence, like Hassanpour's, related to a charge of taking up arms against the Iranian state. Despite a flawed and biased trial, Butimar remains on death row, awaiting execution.

You can help save Iran's jailed journalists. Email your appeals for their release to:

The Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, His Eminence Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei: and and

The Honourable Chief Justice, His Eminence Ayatollah Seyed Mahmoud Hashemi Shahrudi: and

Iranian President, His Excellency Dr Mahmood Ahmadinejad:

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Monday, September 8, 2008

Iran: Political prisoners continue their hunger strike

AKI: "Tehran, 8 Sept. (AKI) - Fifty-four political prisoners are continuing their two-week long hunger strike in five different prisons across the country.

The prisoners are demanding the abolition of the death penalty for so-called intellectual and political crimes, and trials in open court, attended by defendants and their lawyers.

Four of the prisoners have been sentenced to death, and most are ethnic Kurds.

Award-winning journalist Adnan Hassanpour, who has been sentenced to death in two separate trials, is taking part in the hunger strike.

He is to be given a re-trial, his lawyer announced last week."

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Saturday, September 6, 2008

CPJ: Court overturns death sentence but journalist faces espionage charges

New York,September 5, 2008 Prosecutors should drop all charges against Iranian journalist Adnan Hassanpour, whose death sentence was overturned Thursday, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

A court of appeal overturned the sentence against Adnan Hassanpour, a journalist and former editor for the now-defunct Kurdish-Persian weekly Aso in Iran’s northwestern province of Kurdistan, local journalists told CPJ. He will face a new trial on charges of “working for outlawed parties” and espionage, a local journalist told CPJ. Salih Nikbakht, Hassanpour’s lawyer, confirmed the new charges to BBC Persian on Wednesday.

A revolutionary court convicted Hassanpour of “fighting with God” (Moharebeh) in a closed trial last year, according to The Associated Press. Iranian Kurdish environmental activist Abdulvahed Butimar was also convicted and sentenced to death. He remains in jail.

“We are relieved that Adnan Hassanpour is no longer under the threat of execution,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “But we are shocked that he continues to face legal charges as a result of his critical journalism.”

Nikbakht told Radio Farda, a U.S.-backed Farsi-language radio station based in Prague and Washington, that his client signed a 148-page confession unrelated to the charges he currently faces.

“He didn’t go into details about the confessions, but he said he had agreed to whatever [the interrogators] wrote because he had been under pressure,” a local journalist who met with Hassanpour last week told CPJ.

A local journalist told CPJ that although Hassanpour is no longer at risk of being hanged, he could face up to 20 years in prison, a sentence commonly given after a commuted death sentence.

Hassanpour worked as an editor for nearly two years at Aso. The weekly was banned in August 2005 following its coverage of violent protests in the Kurdistan area that summer. He had mostly written about poverty and other social issues. On January 25, 2007, he was arrested by security agents in his hometown of Marivan, in Kurdistan province, according to news reports and international human rights organizations.

© 2008 Committee to Protect Journalists.  E-mail:

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Thursday, September 4, 2008

Supreme court quashes death sentence against Adnan Hassanpour : Reporters Without Borders calls for his release and dismissal of the case

Reporters Without Borders today welcomed with great relief the ruling by the Tehran Supreme Court overturning a death sentence against Kurdish journalist Adnan Hassanpour because of a procedural error.

The court decided that the journalist, who had been convicted of “subversive activities against national security”, could not be considered as a “mohareb” (an enemy of God) and sent his case back to the lower court in Sanandaj, in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Hassanpour, 26, was arrested outside his home on 25 January 2007 and was imprisoned in Mahabad jail (Kurdistan). He worked for the weekly Asou covering Kurdish issues, a highly sensitive subject in Iran, until it was banned by the Culture and Islamic Orientation Ministry in August 2005. He also contributed to foreign media such as Voice of America and Radio Farda, broadcasting to Iran in Persian.

He was being held at the central jail in Sanandaj and had twice gone on hunger strike in protest at the harsh prison conditions.

“We welcome this ruling by the Iranian justice system with great relief,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said. “It is now time to free this journalist who has been through agony since his arrest more than 18 months ago.”

“There was never any evidence of his guilt, but despite this, the judges in the case have twice decided to sentence him to death. This judicial hounding of independent journalists and those working for foreign media has got to stop,” the organisation said.

His lawyer, Saleh Nikbakht, told Reporters Without Borders of his satisfaction at the outcome. “I just hope that the courts will not make the same mistake again”, he said. He added that one of the judges at the court in Sanandaj, who presided at Hassanpour’s trial, had since been sacked. A new trial is due to open before the Sanandaj lower court on 6 September 2008.

In another case, The Commission for Press Authorisation and Surveillance, headed by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Orientation, on 13 August 2008 cancelled the licence of two weekly newspapers. The ecological magazine Tarabestan Sabaz, press organ of an activist body of the same name published in Tehran for ten years, was shut down by the authorities. Entertainment newspaper Sargarmi, specialising in crosswords, was closed for “publishing inappropriate comments” after the newspaper carried a page of texts from readers some of which included humorous messages about Iranian political leaders.

Reporters Without Borders defends imprisoned journalists and press freedom throughout the world. It has nine national sections (Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland). It has representatives in Bangkok, London, New York, Tokyo and Washington. And it has more than 120 correspondents worldwide. 

© Reporters Without Borders 2008

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