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Arrest warrant issued against journalist, official news agency threatened with prosecution

(RSF/IFEX) - On 9 August 2002, RSF condemned the multi-pronged offensive against press freedom carried out by the Iranian justice system over the past week. Two pro-reform newspapers were suspended, the official news agency IRNA was threatened with prosecution and an arrest warrant was issued against pro-reform journalist Massoud Behnoud. RSF is also concerned about the arrest of Nasser Zarafshan, a lawyer for the relatives of a number of intellectuals and journalists who were killed in 1998.

"One has the impression that these measures constitute a 'declaration of war' by the justice system against the reform movement," RSF Secretary-General Ménard said. "We condemn all these measures, which have been adopted at a time of extreme tension in Iran," Ménard said, adding, "we call on the head of the judiciary, Mahmoud Sharoudi, to rescind all these sanctions, which once again demonstrate the justice system's profound contempt for freedom of expression."

RSF recalls that the "Guide of the Islamic Republic", Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is included on RSF's list of international press freedom predators. 10 journalists are currently imprisoned in Iran and the courts have closed more than 10 publications in under three months.

The most recent measure in the latest offensive came on 8 August, when reformist daily "Ayineh-é-Jonoub" was suspended, a week after its first appearance, by Tehran's Court 1410, known as "the press court". One of the reasons given for this measure was the recent conviction of its editor, Mohammad Dadfar, for "propaganda against the regime".

Judicial officials also ordered the suspension of a second reformist daily, "Rouz-é-No", because of the similarity of its name with that of a newspaper closed last month, "Nowrouz". The newspaper's suspension was ordered despite the fact that "Rouz-é-No" obtained the necessary documentation for publication and was due to begin publishing this week. Press Court Judge Saïd Mortazavi said the newspaper "can only begin publishing once 'Nowrouz' daily's six-month suspension is completed."

On 7 August, the Tehran Revolutionary Court threatened to open proceedings against the official news agency IRNA because it "illegally" published a press release issued by an opposition party, the Movement for the Liberation of Iran (MLI). The court explained that the press release should not have been circulated by the news agency because of the provisional status of the sentences imposed on the party and its members. In late July, the court banned the party and sentenced 33 of its members to prison. In a 3 August statement, the MLI described this sentence as "unexpected and surprising."

That same day, Zarafshan, a lawyer for relatives of intellectuals and journalists killed in 1998, was arrested as he was leaving his home. In March, a military court found him guilty of "disseminating information from the case file" and sentenced him to five years' imprisonment. The Appeals Court confirmed his sentence in July. Zarafshan was previously arrested in December 2000 after giving a speech in the city of Chiraz in which he stated that the intelligence services had murdered five Iranian intellectuals in late 1998 in Tehran. The murdered journalists included Majid Charif, an editorialist with the monthly "Iran-é-Farda", writer-journalists Mohamad Mokhtari and Mohamad Jafar Pouyandeh, and a couple, Darioush and Parvaneh Forouhar, who were both freedom of expression activists (see IFEX alerts of 31 January 2001, 22 December 2000, 7 January 1999, 17, 14, 11, 10, 9, 8 and 7 December and 27 November 1998). During his trial, Zarafshan said he could not have revealed classified secrets because the intelligence services had admitted their involvement in these murders.

On 5 August 2002, a warrant was issued for the arrest of pro-reform journalist Behnoud, a contributor to "Adineh", "Neshat" and "Asr-é-Azadegan" newspapers. He was earlier arrested on 9 August 2000 and released on bail on 16 December 2000, shortly before the start of his trial (see IFEX alert of 19 December 2000). Behnoud was accused of "threatening national security", "cooperating with foreign media" and "insulting the Supreme Guide", Ayatollah Khamenei. On 10 September 2001, the Appeals Court upheld his 19-month prison sentence.

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