Wednesday, April 22, 2009

IPI Calls for Release of Journalists Being Used as ‘Political Hostages’ in Iran, North Korea

20 April 2009

Iran and North Korea should immediately free journalists who are being used as apparent political hostages in their wider diplomatic disputes with the United States, the International Press Institute said today.

The sentencing of an Iranian-American radio reporter on espionage charges last week and the continued detention of two American journalists who were seized in North Korea in March further erode chances for diplomatic settlements over the nations’ nuclear ambitions and only augment their reputations as leading suppressers of free speech.

"It is beyond contempt that these journalists are being held hostage to the fortunes of political brinkmanship by countries who share an outdated belief that this is the best way to conduct negotiations on difficult international subjects", IPI Director David Dadge said. "Journalists are neutral observers who gather information. Accusing them of being spies is just another desperate way for authoritarian rulers to smother the truth and delude their populations".

On 18 April, an Iranian court sentenced Roxana Saberi to eight years in prison for espionage after a one-day, secret trial. The US-born reporter was arrested in February, allegedly for buying wine. Saberi, a free-lance journalist, has filed reports on Iran for public broadcasters in Britain and the United States and also worked for the Fox News channel in the United States.

The two journalists detained for entering North Korea from across the Chinese border have been identified as Euna Lee and Laura Ling of US-based Current TV. They were captured on 17 March while apparently preparing a report on the rising number of North Koreans who are seeking refuge in China. Leaders in Pyongyang have been silent on the detention of the women since their capture.

The sentencing of Saberi comes after years of tensions between Tehran and Washington over Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s push to develop a nuclear energy industry that the United States, Europe and Israel contend is a mask for building atomic weapons. Since President Barack Obama took office in January, he has reversed his predecessor’s policy of shunning talks with Tehran, but the Iranian government has so far shown little interest in making concessions on the nuclear issue.

IPI’s Justice Denied Campaign has also condemned the Ahmadinejad government’s handling of Abdolvahed Botimar, a journalist and environmental activist, and his cousin, editor and journalist Adnan Hassanpour, who were tried in secret and accused of being "enemies of God". Both men were sentenced to death, but in September 2008, a court of appeal overturned the death sentence against Hassanpour. He was then charged with espionage.

North Korea, meanwhile, has intensified its isolation by launching a missile over Japan and expelling international experts who were sent to monitor the country’s nuclear experiments. According to IPI’s World Press Freedom Review 2008, North Korea has the worst press freedom record in the world, with the country’s repressive dictatorship retaining complete control of the media while maintaining a blanket ban on foreign journalists.

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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Hiwa Butimar has had his death sentence overturned by an Iranian court.

Andy Stovell: This is a day of Good News!

Two hours ago I received the news that Hiwa Butimar has had his death sentence overturned by an Iranian court.
Hadi Butimar, Hiwa's brother, phoned me after talking with his sister-in-law, Hiwa's wife.

Hadi is in the process of putting together a thank you to all the countless people who have helped in so many ways.

Hiwa goes before another court soon to decide if he is to be released or serve a further prison sentence for the false charges. We will keep you informed. Meanwhile, join in the great joy we all feel for Hiwa and his family.

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Friday, January 9, 2009

Iran: End Repression in Kurdish Areas

Peaceful Dissidents Jailed, Books and Publications Banned

(New York, January 9, 2009) - The government of Iran should amend or abolish broadly worded national security laws used to stifle peaceful dissent in the country's Kurdish areas and end arbitrary arrests of Kurdish critics and dissidents, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 42-page report, "Iran: Freedom of Expression and Association in the Kurdish Regions," documents how Iranian authorities use security laws, press laws, and other legislation to arrest and prosecute Iranian Kurds solely for trying to exercise their right to freedom of expression and association. The use of these laws to suppress basic rights, while not new, has greatly intensified since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power in August 2005.

"Iranian authorities show little tolerance of political dissent anywhere in the country, but they are particularly hostile to dissent in minority areas where there has been any history of separatist activities," said Joe Stork, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa Division.

Kurds account for 4.5 million of the 69 million people in Iran, and live mainly in the country's northwest regions. Political movements there have frequently campaigned for greater regional autonomy. The main Iranian Kurdish parties with a long history of activism deny that they engage in armed activity and the government has not accused these groups of any such activity since the early 1990s.

"No one would contest a government's right to suppress violence," Stork said. "But this is not the case here. What is going on in the Kurdish areas of Iran is the routine suppression of legitimate peaceful opposition."

The new report documents how the government has closed Persian- and Kurdish-language newspapers and journals, banned books, and punished publishers, journalists, and writers for opposing and criticizing government policies. Authorities also suppress legitimate activities of nongovernmental organizations by denying registration permits or charging individuals working with such organizations with spurious security offenses.

One victim of the government's repression is Farazad Kamangar, a superintendent of high schools in the city of Kamayaran and an activist with the Organization for the Defense of Human Rights in Kurdistan. He has been in detention since his arrest in July 2006. The new report reproduces a letter Kamangar smuggled out of prison describing how officials subjected him to torture during interrogation.

On February 25, 2008, Branch 30 of Iran's Revolutionary Court sentenced him to death on charges of "endangering national security." Prosecutors charged that he was a member of the Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), but provided no evidence to support the allegation. In July, the Supreme Court upheld the sentence. Kamangar's lawyer has appealed to the head of the judiciary to intervene, the only remaining option for challenging the sentence.

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