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The head of a labor union at a sugarcane factory in southern Iran has been jailed for six months for spreading rumors, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reports.

Reza Rakhshan, chairman of the Haft-Tappeh Sugarcane Factory Workers Syndicate, was found guilty by the Ahvaz Appeal Court, his union said in a statement on December 1.

The union criticized the sentence as "harsh and unjust," adding that the charges against Rakhshan were based exclusively on his lawful activities in discharging his duties as chairman. It also said that in order for a charge of "propagation of rumors" to be tried in court, there has to be a claimant, which was not the case with regard to Rakhshan.

The court cited as material evidence an article published by Rakhshan one year ago titled "We Are One Family," in which he condemned the arrest of several other members of the syndicate's board and pressure exerted by the authorities on their families. Rakhshan argued that such actions violate Iranian laws and humane principles, and demanded a halt to such harassment and the right for his imprisoned colleagues to receive visits from their families.

Three other union members were sentenced to six months in jail in November for showing disrespect to the country's supreme leader.

Ali Nejati, Rakhshan's predecessor as board chairman, was similarly imprisoned in 2009 on charges of acting against the regime and national security.

Board members Fereydoon Nikoofard, Qorban Alipour, Mohammad Heydarimehr, and Jalil Ahmadi were jailed that same year for six months on charges of engaging in syndicate activities that threatened national security and the Islamic order.

The 3,000-member labor union has organized a number of protests and sit-ins in recent years.

Leading members of other Iranian trade unions, including the Tehran Bus Drivers Union's Mansur Osanlu, have also been arrested and imprisoned.
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A European Union interparliamentary panel has urged Armenia to bring to justice those behind incidents of violence against journalists, RFE/RL reports.

The call came in a statement issued on December 2 in Brussels at the end of a meeting of the EU-Armenia Parliamentary Cooperation Committee.

The text "calls for swift and thorough investigation of all such cases and the bringing of perpetrators to justice" and "recognizes the problem of self-censorship" in the Armenian media.

There was a series of attacks on journalists in the aftermath of Armenia's disputed 2008 presidential election, which led to clashes between security forces and opposition demonstrators.

Our Brussels correspondent says negotiations on the final document were tense, as some MEPs protested what they said was a text watered down following pressure from the Armenian delegation.

The initial version spoke of "the urgent need to put an end to the violence against journalists in Armenia," but this was dropped from the final text.

MEP Vytautas Landsbergis, a former Lithuanian head of state, spoke out against the omission, and then left the meeting without taking part in the final vote.

He told RFE/RL: "I only asked: if [the critical clauses] are taken out of the text, does that mean that there are no more violations and no more self-censorship? If it cannot even be mentioned, I asked. You have heard the response: everything is perfect."

The Armenian delegation was led by MP Naira Zohrabyan and Deputy Foreign Minister Karine Kazinian.

The next meeting of the EU-Armenia Parliamentary Cooperation Committee will take place in November 2011 in Yerevan.

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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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