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Cyber-dissident gravely ill in prison; holy city of Qom is "hell for bloggers," says RSF

(RSF/IFEX) - RSF has condemned the latest crackdown on cyber-dissidents and bloggers in the southern city of Qom. Mojtaba Lotfi, who is serving a prison sentence in the city for articles he posted on the Internet, is gravely ill. Local courts in Qom are also harassing bloggers Farid Modaressi and Mohamad Reza Fathi.

"Writing about politics or even social issues is an act of bravery in Iran, especially since the local authorities are now taking over the role of gagging bloggers from the central government. For this reason, we hail the human rights report which has just been adopted by the European Parliament, condemning Iran's 'abject policies' towards journalists and cyber-dissidents," RSF said.

Fathi, wh is a professor, was first summoned on 26 March by the Edareh Amaken (morality squad) and interrogated about his blog, http://www.savehjam.blogspot.com, in which he has criticised the provincial government and the mayor of Saveh, near Qom. In a letter to President Mohammad Khatami, he voiced exasperation at the "scant capacity of civil servants to accept criticism."

Local police arrested Fathi nine days later in the street, in front of his students, and paraded him handcuffed through the city. He was held for three days and was questioned again in camera, without his lawyer being present. On his release, he was resigned to closing down his blog, despite its local popularity. Nonetheless, he will have to appear before the local judicial authorities again on various charges, including publishing false information, insults and disturbing the peace.

Modaressi, a blogger who was previously imprisoned for one month in late 2004, has received a summons to appear before a Qom court on 14 May on charges of "insulting regime officials" in comments about the president and others in his blog, http://farid.blogset.com. He has also been summoned to appear before a Tehran court on 10 May on a charge of "attacking state security".

RSF has learned that the health of Lotfi, a cyber-dissident and Qom resident, has seriously deteriorated since he was sentenced to three years and 10 months in prison in February. Conditions inside the prison have reportedly aggravated a lung ailment he has suffered from since being exposed to chemicals during the Iran-Iraq war.

In a recent international human rights report, the European Parliament condemned Iran's "abject policies" as regards the arrest and imprisonment of journalists and cyber-dissidents and violations of press and media freedom.

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