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Irina and Ernest Vardanean
The wife of a Moldovan journalist jailed on charges of espionage in the breakaway region of Transdniester says their apartment was raided by security officers, RFE/RL's Moldovan Service reports.

Irina Vardanean, the wife of jailed journalist Ernest Vardanean, told RFE/RL on September 10 that three officers searched the apartment in Tiraspol on September 9 and tried to confiscate the hard disk of the family's computer, but she stopped them.

"I fought back against them," she said. "Having a little baby I work from home and they were trying to deprive me of my last means to earn a living."

Ernest Vardanean, 34, was arrested in his hometown of Tiraspol on April 7 and has been charged with working for the Moldovan secret service in Chisinau.

He was later shown on Transdniestrian state television confessing to being a spy. But his family and friends believe he was forced to confess under pressure.

Irina Vardanean suspects prosecutors need the family's computer to try to fabricate evidence against her husband.

"They have confiscated my husband's computer already, but found nothing," she said. "I repaired our old one to be able to work and there is nothing to be found on it."

The latest incident took place the same day Moldovan Prime Minister Vlad Filat spoke by phone with Transdniester separatist leader Igor Smirnov about Ernest Vardanean's case and that of another man arrested in Tiraspol on similar charges.

Filat told journalists that he did not receive any promises, but Moldovan authorities will continue to pressure Transdniestrian officials to give Vardanean a fair trial.

Irina Vardanean told RFE/RL she has become more desperate since it has now been more than six months since her husband's arrest.

"All doors are closed in Tiraspol and we don't know what lies ahead for us in the future," she said. "Nothing tangible has been done by Moldova either while Russia says it's none of its business."

Officials from Moldova, the United States, the European Union, and several human rights organizations have repeatedly asked separatist officials to grant Vardanean a fair trial and decent conditions in detention.
Iranian student activists Abdollah Momeni (left), who's now in jail, and the recently exiled Mohammad Sadeghi
The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran has published a letter, addressed to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, by prominent Iranian human rights activist Abdollah Momeni in which he describes being tortured, forced to make false confessions, and subjected to a "show trial."

Here are some excerpts:

Beatings, verbal abuse, and degradation, and illegal treatments started at the very moment of my arrest. During my arrest, tear gas was used, which prior to this had only been used in the streets and open air. Breathing tear gas in a confined space made me feel as if I were choking and rendered me unable to move. Still, the security officials did not stop at that. With great spite and hostility they began to beat me, punching and kicking me, so that they could turn me over to their superiors at Evin prison with a bloody nose, mouth, and bleeding teeth and shackled arms and legs.

The iron fist of interrogators would often result in my passing out. On several occasions the interrogator strangled me to the point of me losing consciousness and falling to the ground. For days following these strangulations, I suffered such severe pain in the neck and throat area that eating and drinking became unbearable.

More than 400 days have passed since my arrest.... I just want to inform all that I continue to hold the same beliefs that I had prior to my arrest and I remain true to those beliefs.

Momeni is the spokesman of Advar Tahkim Vahdat, which is the alumni organization of Iran's largest reformist student group. Several members of the group have been arrested in the postelection crackdown while others have been forced into exile, including Mohammad Sadeghi, a member of the central council of the pro-reform organization who spoke to me about the plight of Momeni and the reasons for the pressure on his organization.

Q: Your friend and colleague Abdollah Momeni has written a letter from Evin prison in which he recounts the torture and pressure he’s been subjected to in order to make false confessions. Momeni was arrested also several times in the past. Why do you think he’s come under so much pressure?

Mohammad Sadeghi: As you know, Abdollah Momeni is one of the leaders of Iran’s student movement who in his activities has been always critical of the Iranian establishment, and he’s always done all he can to defend the rights of students who have been sentenced to prison or [banned from classes] over their activities. Momeni also had a great role in the entering of the Advar Tahkim Vahdat into the election process. [Editor's note: Advar campaigned for reformist cleric Mehdi Karrubi.) He had very progressive and influential views ahead of last year’s presidential vote. He’s always been very sensitive about human rights and he had a significant role in leading the student movement. Naturally, all of this and his critical stances have led to the anger and grudge of the establishment against him. He was arrested again after the presidential vote after being jailed a number of time in past years, and the establishment attempted to break Abdollah Momeni as the symbol of the student movement to deal a blow to the student movement and critical students and halt their activities.”

Q: We received reports that even when he was out of jail on prison leave for the Iranian new year he was being pressured. You were still in Iran at that time. Could you tell us about the kind of pressure he was facing then?

Sadeghi: Momeni had been allowed out on prison leave under some kind of agreements -- [officials] had told him that he had to distance himself from his previous stances, and they had also said that he should play their game. In the very brief time that he was out of prison, he was contacted many times by his interrogators, security organs, and judiciary officials who wanted him to go to different universities and speak against himself and Advar. He was even invited onto state television to "confess" to his mistakes. A number of times reporters from hard-line media contacted him for interviews. Momeni never accepted any of those demands. They particularly wanted him to publish a letter against [opposition leader Mehdi Karrubi] and against Advar. Momeni refused to do so and was forced to return to prison.

Q: Momeni is the spokesman of Advar. Ahmad Zeidabadi, the secretary-general of your organization, is also in jail and reportedly also under great pressure as well as at least three senior members -- Ali Malihi and Hassan Assadi Zeidabadi and Ali Jamali -- who were arrested last month. What are the reasons for the crackdown against your organization?

Sadeghi: Advar Tahkim Vahdat has in past years -- under reformist President Mohammad Khatami and also before and after last year’s presidential election -- has always criticized the power structure in Iran. Many believe that our organization has always been in the forefront of the fight for democracy of the Iranian people. The establishment is forced to react to a group that is based on the fight for human rights and freedom and challenged the power structure through its criticism. The members of Advar -- including its then-secretar-general, Musavi Khoeni -- were also arrested...the offices of Advar have been shut down a number of times. I think that these reactions are the result of the freedom-seeking efforts of Advar. But I’d also like to say that Advar is alive, like other groups that are trying to remain active despite government pressure. Advar’s activities will not stop because of the arrest of a number of its members. Advar has 15 provincial branches in Iran, our website is active, and the few senior members who have not been arrested are continuing their work. We are still pursuing the demands of the Iranian people.

Q: So you think based on your own observations that the pressure and the increased repression has not managed to silent the opposition Green Movement?

Sadeghi: When I read the letter by Momeni and other friends, I come to several conclusions: It uncovers the crimes that the establishment committed after the election against the people and political activists; and the other issue is what you asked -- the democracy movement of the Iranian people is alive despite all the pressure, despite the dirty and cowardly projects of forced confessions. It all demonstrates that prisoners who are now under harsh conditions are still standing by their positions by publishing letters and documents. And this is a dismissal of attempts by authorities to force prisoners to false confessions.

It is a sign that the movement is alive, the arrests, killings and pressure have not put an end to the postelection crisis -- [authorities] don’t even give permissions to hold religious ceremonies. There are no more street protests, but we will have more crisis in the country in the future and authorities have no choice but to give in to the demands of the people.

Q: Can you also explain under what conditions you were forced to leave Iran?

Sadeghi: I was jailed for two months last year and released on a bail of 100 million toumans (about $100 000). I was facing several charges and I was expecting a court decision; in the meantime, a Czech NGO, “People in Need,” gave Abdollah Momeni and jailed student Majid Tavakoli its Homo Homini human rights prize. I picked up the prize from the Czech Embassy in Tehran on behalf of their families.

After that I was faced with pressure from security organs who accused me of ties to foreign embassies and even spying. Since I had also been banned from studies and it was clear that they had plans to arrest senior members of Advar, I was forced to leave Iran. It’s now been about one month since I fled Iran, and I currently live in Paris. I personally didn’t want to live outside Iran; I really wanted to be with my people and continue the fight. But I was forced to leave.

-- Golnaz Esfandiari

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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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