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Hila Sedighi

Hila Sedighi, a popular Iranian poet who had in the past criticized state repression and campaigned for an opposition presidential candidate, has been detained by authorities, relatives said.

Sedighi was arrested January 7 at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport as she returned from the United Arab Emirates, family members told RFE/RL. The reason for her arrest and charges were not immediately clear. The relatives asked not to be identified for fear of harassment by Iranian law enforcement.

It’s the second time Sedighi, 30, has been arrested. She was detained in May 2011 and held in Tehran’s Evin prison, but later released on bail.

In August 2011, reports said an Iranian court sentenced her to a four-month prison term that was suspended for five years.

Sedighi was believed to have been targeted in connection with the poems she wrote and recited in public in reaction to the brutal state crackdown that followed the 2009 mass street demonstrations over the reelection of then-President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

Sedighi was a member of the campaign team of Mir Hossein Musavi, an opposition lawmaker who lost the election to Ahmadinejad. Мusavi was put under house arrest in February 2011, along with his wife, university professor Zahra Rahnavard and reformist cleric Mehdi Karrubi, after repeatedly accusing authorities of mass election fraud and human rights abuses.

In one of her poems, Sedighi highlighted the plight of students arrested in the 2009 crackdown.

“The first day of the school year has arrived/ and I am full of memorable moments of the unforgettable memories/ the classroom is empty of you/ me and the faded flowers sitting at the desk. The weather is fall-like and it’s raining in me/ I am a prisoner of my own rage,” she wrote.

A video clip of her reciting the poem in a public gathering was widely shared on social media.

Her arrest comes amid what appears to be a new round of repression in Iran where in recent months a number of poets, filmmakers, activists, and journalists have been arrested or sentenced to prison.

Hadi Ghaemi, the head of the New York-based Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, said the lack of tolerance of Iranian leaders for the "peaceful voices of the youth" indicated deteriorating tolerance for freedom of expression in the country.

"Arresting writers and young poets for the peaceful expression of their opinions has become a trend in Iran and the frequency [of the arrests] over a short time is unprecedented," Ghaemi said in a statement issued on the campaign's website.

Sedighi was among 41 writers around the world who received prestigious grants from Human Rights Watch in 2012 “for their commitment to freedom of expression and their courage in face of persecution.” The grants are awarded each year to writers who have been targets of political persecution.

A resident rides his bicycle near what activists say is an exploded cluster-bomb shell in the Syrian town of Douma in November.

Russian open-source bloggers say they have documented more evidence that Russia is using cluster bombs in its air campaign supporting Syria’s embattled regime.

The findings by Ruslan Leviev and the Conflict Intelligence Team, which has uncovered other secretive Russian military activity both in Syria and Ukraine in the past, adds to reports by international human rights group that accuse Moscow of putting civilians at risk with indiscriminate use of cluster bombs.

Russia is not party to the 2008 treaty that bans the use of cluster munitions, which after exploding scatter tiny bomblets across a wide area. The weaponry has been condemned for its indiscriminate nature and the danger of civilians accidentally detonating the bomblets.

Russia has denied using such munitions, most recently last month after Human Rights Watch published a detailed report documenting at least 20 instances of their alleged use since Moscow launched its air campaign on September 30 to support its ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in his war against both extremist and more moderate rebel groups.

In their report published January 7, Leviev and his team of bloggers scoured Russian news photographs and video footage to document several types of cluster munitions being stored or attached to aircraft at the Hemeimeem air base, in western Syria.

Though no markings can be seen, the bloggers say the underwing bombs are identical in form to a commonly used Russian cluster bomb known as the RBK-500. They also identify the jets as Su-24 and Su-25 bombers, which are based at the Shagol air base in Russia. They also point to imagery from early last year showing RBK-500 munitions on identically marked jets at the base.

“After the [Russian Air Force] operation in Syria started, more and more evidence began to emerge of cluster munitions being used on civilian targets in rebel-controlled areas,” the group said. “Some of those munitions...previously hadn’t been used in the conflict.”

Other photographs gathered from Syrian social media show unexploded bomblets on the ground in Syria.

In its report, Human Right Watch said it had documented instances of other Russian-manufactured, rocket-launched cluster munitions being used in Syria.

Syria has long been a major recipient of Soviet and Russian weaponry.

Last year, prior to the start of Russia’s air campaign, Leviev’s team documented the deployment of Russian marine infantry to Syria, contrary to Moscow’s denials of such troop movements.

They also located the graves of Russian soldiers who appeared to have been killed fighting in eastern Ukraine. Russia has long denied any of its military personnel have fought there in an official capacity.

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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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