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Imprisoned journalist Siamak Pourzand's deteriorating health causes concern; journalist Ensafali Hedayat gets 18-month prison sentence

(RSF/IFEX) - RSF has voiced concern about the deteriorating health of jailed 75-year-old journalist Siamak Pourzand. The organisation also condemned the 18-month prison sentence handed to freelance journalist Ensafali Hedayat on 14 April 2004 and voiced outrage over the United Nations Human Rights Commission's (UNHRC) failure to condemn Iran during its 60th session.

RSF warned that Pourzand's life could be in danger if he is not released immediately and given appropriate medical treatment. He has been paralysed for months and suffered a heart attack on 31 March that left him in a coma for 36 hours.

The authorities' refusal to free Pourzand on medical grounds suggests they have failed to learn a lesson from the death of photojournalist Zahra Kazemi on 10 July 2003 from a beating received in detention, the organisation said, while calling for the release of all 12 journalists who are currently imprisoned in Iran.

In a continuing crackdown on freedom of expression, on 14 April, a court in the northwestern city of Tabriz sentenced Hedayat to 18 months in prison. He was given one year for "insulting senior officials of the Islamic Republic" and a further six months for "propaganda against the regime".

In another development, Tehran Prosecutor Said Mortazavi was recently awarded the title of "Best Leader of the Year". As head of the "press tribunal", Mortazavi has been responsible for the closure of about 100 newspapers and the arrests of many journalists. He has also been directly implicated in Kazemi's death. "The awarding of this title to Mortazavi would be the height of absurdity if the situation were not so tragic," RSF said, adding that "the Islamic Republic is merely highlighting its arbitrary and repressive nature by celebrating this travesty of justice."

"Amid these sinister developments, it is outrageous that none of the member countries of the [UNHRC], not even European Union member countries, have tabled a resolution condemning Iran," the organisation added.

A freelance contributor to several independent newspapers, Pourzand has been imprisoned since 30 March 2003. He is bedridden with osteoarthritis of the neck and disk problems that require an operation. The journalist went into a coma after suffering a heart attack on 31 March. He spent months in solitary confinement and was forced to confess on television following psychological pressure and torture.

Pourzand was previously arrested on 24 November 2001 and sentenced in May 2002 to eight years in prison for "actions against state security" and having "links with monarchists and counter-revolutionaries". He was allowed to go home in December 2002, but was returned to prison in March 2003.

Hedayat was arrested on 16 January 2004, upon his return from Germany, by order of the Tabriz Revolutionary Court. He was previously arrested on 16 June 2003 at Tabriz University while covering student demonstrations (see IFEX alerts of 14 July, 24 and 19 June 2003).

Iran is the biggest prison for journalists in the Middle East, with 12 currently jailed.

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