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Human rights activist Emadeddin Baghi in June 2010
Iranian opposition leader Mehdi Karrubi has met with the family of a journalist and rights activist who was given a lengthy prison sentence for recording an interview with a dissident cleric, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reports.

The meeting with relatives of Emadeddin Baghi, the award-winning founder of the now-banned Tehran-based Society to Defend Prisoners' Rights, took place on January 6.

Baghi, 49, was sentenced last year to seven years in prison, including six on charges of "propaganda against the system" over an interview he recorded with the late Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri that was broadcast by BBC Persian after the cleric's death in 2009.

Ali Maghami, Baghi's son-in-law, was also arrested by security forces on December 27 on unclear charges.

Mojtaba Vahedi, a U.S.-based analyst and former editor in chief of the reformist Iranian newspaper "Aftabe Yazd," told Radio Farda it was likely Baghi's activities on behalf of prisoners' rights that prompted Karrubi's interest in his case.

"Karrubi, despite being aware of the sensitivity of the issue, has always had this habit of meeting and sympathizing with the families of political prisoners," Vahedi said.

Baghi has spent 4 1/2 years in prison in recent years.

He was awarded the Geneva-based Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders in 2009.
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev (file photo)
The upper chamber of Kazakhstan's parliament has unanimously backed a plan to hold a referendum that would extend the term in office of President Nursultan Nazarbaev by another 10 years.

The lower house already backed a similar bill.

Kazakhstan's opposition has condemned the "people's initiative" by a self-styled citizens' forum as a ploy to avoid a presidential election scheduled for 2012.

The United States has criticized it as a setback for democracy.

The legislation asks Nazarbaev to amend the constitution and call a referendum.

Supporters say they have collected more than 2.5 million signatures of citizens in favor of a referendum.

The 70-year-old Nazarbaev, who has ruled Kazakhstan for more than 20 years, has to give his final word on the referendum.

Scattered protests by opponents of the referendum have been met with arrests and the dispersal of demonstrations in various cities.

Outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan Richard Hoagland used his final news conference in Astana to criticize the referendum, saying Kazakhs "should have a bigger choice than simply 'yes' or 'no'" in order "to have a democratic voice in their country."

compiled from agency and RFE/RL reports

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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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