Reporters Without Borders today strongly deplored new attacks on journalists by the Iranian authorities, including the sentencing of one to four years in prison and 253 lashes, as well as further prosecution of two others already in jail and suspected bogus confessions of a fourth.
"These new moves by the hardliners cannot be tolerated," said the organisation's secretary-general, Robert Ménard. "The reformers in the regime are clearly unable to defend the journalists. The situation is disgraceful."
Alireza Jabari, a translator and freelance contributor to several independent newspapers, including Adineh, was sentenced on 19 April to four years in prison, 253 lashes and a fine of six million rials
(1,000 euros) for "consuming and distributing alcoholic drinks" and for "adultery and incitement to immoral acts." Such charges are routine against non-religious people. In fact, he was being punished for belonging to the Writers' Association and sending material to foreign-based news websites, especially articles defending a jailed lawyer, Nasser Zarafshan.
Jabari's lawyer said he was arrested illegally and that he himself had not been allowed to attend Jabari's trial. He was arrested at his office in Teheran last 28 December and freed on 6 February this year. He was arrested again on 17 March.
An interview with him had appeared on 25 December in a Persian-language newspaper in Canada, Charvand, in which he said the country's hardline spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Guide of the Islamic Revolution, wanted the crisis in Iran to get worse. His latest arrest came soon after he told the press about his conditions of detention and the pressure exerted on him to make confessions.
Journalists Hossein Ghazian (arrested last October) and Abbas Abdi (arrested in November) are being tried in secret and without their lawyers present for "possessing secret documents belong to the intelligence ministry." Early this month they were each sentenced on appeal to four years and six months in prison - four years for "passing information to enemy countries," and six months for "making propaganda against the Islamic regime."
Ghazian, a director of the Ayandeh public opinion firm and a journalist on the daily paper Nowrooz, and Abdi, another Ayandeh director, ex-editor of the daily Salam who has worked on many reformist papers, were accused of "receiving money from the US polling firm Gallup or from a foreign embassy." They were arrested after the official news agency IRNA, published last 22 September an Ayandeh poll that showed 74.4 per cent of Iranians favoured a resumption of ties with the United States.
Sina Motallebi, editor of the news website www.rooznegar.com and formerly on the staff of the banned reformist daily Hayat-é-No, has been in preventive detention since 20 April. His lawyer was barred from the start of his trial on 26 April because the judge, Saberi Zafargandi, said it was "pointless at this stage of the case." Motallebi agreed with the judge, leading his family to fear he had been subjected to psychological pressure in jail. The judge has tried several other journalists, including Siamak Pourzand, Kambiz Kaheh and Said Mostaghasi, all of whom made alleged confessions.
After Hayat-é-No was shut down in January, Motallebi revived the Rooznegar.com website on which he had defended one of the paper's journalists, Alireza Eshragi, who was arrested on 11 January, and other imprisoned journalists. This angered the country's hardline judiciary but also some reformers, who he criticised for remaining silent about the arrests. He was accused of undermining national security through "cultural activity" and had been summoned several times in the past four months by legal officials and the Adareh Amaken branch of the Teheran police.