16 February 2005
Appeal court upholds prison sentence for cyber-dissident; another blogger imprisoned as court doubles bail
(RSF/IFEX) - Condemning the imprisonment of two Iranian Internet users in the past 10 days, RSF said Iran was undergoing the Middle East's biggest-ever crackdown on online expression.
Cyber-dissident Mojtaba Lotfi was imprisoned on 5 February 2005 after an appeal court upheld a sentence of three years and 10 months in prison for posting "lies" on the Internet. Blogger Motjaba Saminejad, who was freed on bail of 500 million rials (approx. US$56,000; 43,000 euros) at the end of January, returned to prison on 12 February when a judge doubled the bail, making it impossible for him to raise the money.
"How can Iranian officials parade at a UN summit on the Internet at the same time as they are jailing bloggers?" RSF asked, referring to Iran's participation in a preparatory meeting of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in two days' time.
"We will go to this meeting to ask them to free the cyber-dissident and two bloggers who are in prison in Iran," the organisation said. "We will also remind them that they will have to respect the undertaking given during the first WSIS stage, namely respect for Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."
Lotfi, a theology student from the holy city of Qom, was originally sentenced to three years and 10 months by a lower court on 14 August 2004. He was allowed to remain free at the time after posting bail of 650 million rial (approx. US$71,600; 55,000 euros).
Lotfi is a former journalist with the pro-reform daily "Khordad", which the authorities closed in 2000. He was arrested for the first time in May 2004 and imprisoned in Qom after posting an article entitled "Respect for human rights in cases involving the clergy" on http://www.naqshineh.com,
a news site about Qom. Naqshineh is also being prosecuted for its articles on the last legislative elections. It has been blocked since March 2004 on the orders of the Qom authorities.
In Saminejad's case, he was summoned to the Tehran Prosecutor's Office on 12 February 2005, where he was told his bail had been increased to 1 billion rials (approx. $US113,300; 87, 000 euros). The blogger was first arrested in November 2004 for reporting the arrests of three fellow bloggers in his former blog (http://man-namanam.blogspot.com). While detained, his blog address was rerouted to that of a group of hackers linked to the Iranian radical Islamist movement Hezbollah (http://irongroup.blogspot.com/). After his release, he re-launched his blog using a new address (http://8mdr8.blogspot.com), which may have prompted the second arrest.
The other blogger currently in prison is journalist Arash Sigarchi. Sigarchi was arrested on 17 January 2005 in the northern city of Rashat for maintaining a banned blog called Panhjareh Eltehab (The Window of Anxiety), in which he reported the recent arrests of cyber-journalists and bloggers.
WSIS, whose second stage will be held in Tunis in November, is being organised by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) under UN aegis (visit the official site at http://www.wsis.org).
A preparatory meeting (prep com) is taking place in Geneva from 17 to 25 February.