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Analysis: Repression Of Iranian Internet Sector Continues

Some Iranian online journalists who were arrested in the autumn were released after writing letters of contrition that were published in newspapers. The respite has been short-lived, however, especially for journalists who later described the mistreatment they underwent. Two of them -- Hanif Mazrui and Fereshteh Qazi -- received Press Court summonses on 23 December, the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported the next day. The two face accusations of, among other things, disturbing public opinion.

The Journalists Guildspoke out against the summonses on 25 December, ILNA reported. The guild called on the judiciary to desist from such actions against correspondents.

Journalists Guild head Rajabali Mazrui (Hanif Mazrui's father) criticized the judiciary for torturing the detained journalists in a 10 December letter to President Mohammad Khatami. One day later three of the released journalists -- Omid Memarian, Ruzbeh Mir-Ebrahimi, and Shahram Rafizadeh -- were taken into custody again, Human Rights Watch reported. Press Court Judge Said Mortazavi warned them that if they did not refute the allegations of torture they would spend a long time in prison. Memarian, Mir-Ebrahimi, Rafizadeh, and Javad Gholam-Tamimi, who was detained in October and had not been released yet, gave televised confessions on 14 December in which they said they never endured torture, solitary detention, and or any other form of abuse.

Some of the arrested online journalists were coerced into falsely confessing that they had physical relations with prominent reformist officials, such as Mustafa Tajzadeh and Hojatoleslam Mohammad Ali Abtahi, Radio Farda reported on 28 December, citing Abtahi's weblog ( Tajzadeh is a former deputy interior minister and a leader in the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization. Abtahi serves as a presidential adviser and until his October resignation was vice-president for legal and parliamentary affairs. Abtahi writes that he spoke with the bloggers and journalists after their letters of contrition were published and their confessions televised, and they described the beatings they suffered at their jailers' hands.

Fereshteh Qazi complained about this abuse to Judge Mortazavi when she appeared before him on 27 December, Radio Farda reported, citing ILNA. Mortzavi sent her to a physician to determine the veracity of her claims.

False Confessions

Typical of these letters of contrition is one from Javad Gholam-Tamimi that was described in the 5 December "Jomhuri-yi Islami" (on other letters of contrition, see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 7 and 14 December 2004). His letter was addressed to Journalists Guild chief Rajabali Mazrui and was faxed to the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) from Evin prison. Gholam-Tamimi allegedly said he was fooled into acts of treason, the last of which involved receiving payment for cooperating with the military attache of a foreign embassy. He denounced the Journalists Guild, allegedly writing, "I declare my disdain for you and the union affiliated with you that want to misuse my name, and I ask for judicial prosecution of those who try to create tension in society merely under the pretext of supporting a criminal." Gholam-Tamimi said he was never in solitary confinement, prison officials had treated him well, and "I am embarrassed and I do not know what to do in return for so many favors that the authorities have done for me."

Obviously, the Journalists Guild recognizes that such a letter was almost certainly coerced and it therefore maintains its interest in and commitment to the issue. The conservative dominated legislature, on the other hand, appears to accept these letters at face value. Alaedin Borujerdi, head of the national security and foreign affairs committee, said he and his colleagues might look into the allegations raised in the letters, "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on 6 December. He said the letter writers were acting freely, and their claims of acting under others' influence require investigation.
Some of the arrested online journalists were coerced into falsely confessing that they had physical relations with prominent reformist officials.

Iranian journalists have had a difficult time since the country's 1979 revolution. Iran now holds the dubious honor of being the Middle East's biggest prison for journalists, according to Human Rights Watch. The government's closure of approximately 100 publications over the last four and half years silenced many voices, and the remaining press outlets are forced to practice self-censorship to remain open. Some of those journalists began to ply their trade using the Internet, but even that process has become dangerous. Some are now abandoning the political scene, while others are leaving Iran. "I am quitting political work for good in Iran," Hanif Mazrui said in the 26 December "New York Times," and a former detainee who requested anonymity said that he and some of his colleagues intend to leave the country. That is exactly what the hardliners in Iran want -- an absence of oversight so they can ride roughshod over their compatriots' rights. (Bill Samii)