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Zhila Baniyaghoub
Two Paris-based advocacy groups, Reporters Without Borders and the International Federation of Human Rights, are launching a campaign today along with Iranian Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi calling for the release of political prisoners in Iran.

The launch is timed to coincide with the one-year anniversary of Iran's disputed presidential election that returned Mahmud Ahmadinejad to power and sparked off street protests and a subsequent violent crackdown.

Authorities rounded up thousands of opposition supporters, journalists, and other pro-reformists in the wake of last year's protests, and scores remain in jail.

"For one year, we see that the repression of political opponents of the [Iranian] regime -- of journalists or people who want to have free speech -- [has been] harsh," says Gilles Lordet, chief editor of Reporters Without Borders. "There are more and more people who have been arrested by the regime that are in prison. And we [call] for the liberation of these people."

In comments to RFE/RL's Radio Farda this week, Ebadi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2003, highlighted one of the most recent cases -- that of prominent journalist Zhila Baniyaghoub, who this week was sentenced to one year in jail and given a 30-year ban from journalistic activities, according to Iranian media.

"I regret to see that Iran's judiciary has deteriorated so much that it has become a security body in which the judges are the puppets of the Intelligence Ministry agents," Ebadi said.

Baniyaghoub was arrested in June 2009 during Iran's postelection crackdown along with her husband, journalist Bahman Ahmadi Amouee.

Baniyaghoub was released on bail after two months' detention in August 2009. She was awarded the Courage In Journalism prize by the International Women's Media Foundation in 2009.

"How can one tell a journalist who is the winner of a world courage award that she has no right to work for 30 years?" Ebadi asked.
Sergei Makhnatkin
Russian rights activists say they will give legal help to a man jailed for assaulting a police officer during an opposition rally.

Sergei Makhnatkin was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in jail on June 9 for allegedly breaking a policeman's nose during the December 31 protest in
Moscow that was forcibly dispersed by police.

Makhnatkin says he was just a passerby and that he was detained and beaten up after trying to stop police from hitting an elderly female protester.

Rights activists have denounced the verdict. Oleg Orlov, the chairman of the Moscow-based Memorial group, called it "draconian."

The chairwoman of Moscow's Helsinki Group, Lyudmila Alekseyeva, said today her organization will help Makhnatkin appeal his verdict. She also said she will urge Russia's human rights ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin, to intervene on Makhnatkin's behalf.

Vladimir Volkov, a Moscow-based lawyer and a former investigator of serious crimes, told RFE/RL that the verdict is meant as a warning by Moscow authorities.

"With their intimidating action against [Makhnatkin], the authorities are trying to show the public that they are prepared to establish a totalitarian regime in the country so nobody can ever defend their honor and dignity under any circumstances," Volkov says.

Tatyana Kadiyeva, one of the December 31 protesters, told RFE/RL that she witnessed Makhnatkin's ordeal that day.

According to Kadiyeva, Makhnatkin was just passing by Moscow's Triumfal'naya (Triumph) square when he spotted policemen trying to force protester Raisa Vavilova into a police bus. Kadiyeva said that when Makhnatkin verbally intervened, the police forced him into the bus as well.

"Five policemen handcuffed Makhnatkin to a bar in the bus and were beating and suffocating him," Kadiyeva said.

The December demonstration was one in a series of rallies by Russian rights activists and opposition members in support of freedom of assembly.

The demonstrations are held on the last day of any month with 31 days -- a reference to Article 31 of Russia's Constitution, which guarantees freedom of assembly.

At the most recent rally, on May 31, more than 100 demonstrators were detained by police.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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