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Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh has been in detention since June. (file photo)

With four more Iranian human rights defenders arrested in Tehran since August 31, Human Rights Watch (HRW) says the country’s authorities have "ramped up" their crackdown against activists.

"The most reputable rights defenders, who have stepped up to be the messenger for millions of Iranians' discontent, are now in jail," Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at HRW, said in a statement on September 5.

The New York-based watchdog called on the authorities to immediately release the jailed human rights defenders, saying they appear to have been arrested "solely for peaceful dissent."

On August 31, human rights lawyer Mohammad Najafi posted on Facebook that two other lawyers, Farokh Forouzan and Payam Derafshan, were arrested after attending a gathering at the house of another imprisoned lawyer.

Derafshan represented prominent human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, who has been detained since June. Her husband, Reza Khandan, was arrested on September 4 after he refused to appear for an interrogation.

In a statement last month, HRW said Sotoudeh's arrest and the new charges against her revealed the "grave degree the Iranian judiciary is criminalizing human rights activism."

Derafshan also represented two other jailed lawyers and the family of Kavous Sayed Emami, a prominent environmentalist who died in detention in February.

Earlier this month, authorities also arrested Hoda Amid and Najmeh Vahedi, two women’s rights activists who are instructors for a workshop on equal rights in marriage.

Amid growing public discontentment in Iran over rising prices and economic hardship, authorities are "only fueling instability with their silencing of peaceful dissent," Whitson said.

"At a time when everyday life is increasingly difficult for millions of Iranians, rights advocates should be an essential part of solving collective problems, instead of a primary target of the government’s crackdown," she also said.

Ukrainian journalist Natalia Sedletska (file photo)

The United States, the European Union, and international media watchdogs have expressed concern over a Ukrainian court ruling that gives the authorities access to the cell-phone data of an RFE/RL investigative reporter spanning a period of 17 months.

The court decision could have "a chilling effect on press freedom and anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine," the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine said in a tweet on September 5, after a Kyiv court approved the prosecutor-general’s request to allow investigators to obtain information from mobile service providers about calls to and from Natalia Sedletska.

Last month's court ruling stems from a criminal investigation into the alleged disclosure of state secrets to journalists in 2017 by Artem Sytnyk, director of the National Anticorruption Bureau of Ukraine.

Sedletska is the host of Schemes, the award-winning anticorruption TV program by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service and Ukrainian Public Television.

'Very Serious Questions'

The program reported on several investigations involving senior Ukrainian officials, including Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko.

Maja Kocijancic, the spokeswoman for EU foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini, said that the court ruling "raises very serious questions."

"No decision should violate basic freedoms of the media nor international journalistic standards such as the protection of sources of journalists," Kocijancic said, adding that investigative journalism "contributes significantly to the fight against corruption in Ukraine."

In Vienna, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) media-freedom representative, Harlem Desir, said that investigative journalism "plays the essential role of a watchdog in societies and journalists must be able to protect their sources."

Earlier, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called the court's ruling "an affront to the principle of press freedom that the Ukrainian government purports to uphold."

Meanwhile, Ukrainian journalist Kristina Berdynskykh said on September 5 that a court had also granted Ukraine’s authorities access to nearly a year and a half of her phone data.

"Escalating the situation further, a Ukraine court granted the prosecutor-general's office access to phone records of another journalist Kristina Berdynskykh. This must stop," CPJ tweeted.

The media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked Ukraine 101st out of the 180 countries in its Press Freedom index.

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About This Blog

"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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