In a statement released on Wednesday, Reporters Without Borders condemned the recent arrests of Iranian human rights lawyer Mohammad Seifzadeh and Alireza Rajai, a journalist who writes for several reformist newspapers.
Mr. Seifzadeh has defended imprisoned journalists in the past and is a founder member of the Centre for Human Rights Defender, the group that Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi is associated with. On April 22, two weeks after his disappearance, his family got word from him about his arrest by intelligence military officials in the city of Urmia, where he was still being held on charges of “acting against national security.”
His son was allowed to meet him the following day but only for a few minutes he told news media, adding that his father was unwell. His lawyer was not allowed to meet with him at all.
Mr. Seifzadeh was sentenced to nine years in prison by a revolutionary court in Tehran in October 2010 and banned for 10 years from practicing law because of his work for CHRD, a coalition of human rights activists and lawyers who defend political cases. The government deemed the organization’s activities as “illegal” in 2006, a charge the group disputes.
Two other leading human rights lawyers, Abdolfattah Soltani and Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, have been imprisoned and sentenced in the wake of the protests against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s reelection in June 2009, says Reporters Without Borders.
Another leading member of CHRD, Nasrin Sotoudeh, was detained on 5 September 2010 and given an 11-year jail sentence. Her arrest is an example of how repressive actions continue in Iran.
“The almost systematic arrests of human rights lawyers are unacceptable,” said Reporters Without Borders. “[We] urge lawyers’ associations throughout the world to demand their immediate release.”
Journalists too have not been spared.
Mr. Rajai’s whereabouts remain unknown since his arrest by intelligence ministry officials on April 24. The government news agency Fars News, which is said to have strong ties to the security services, accused him of “acting against national security.” Mr. Rajai has worked for Jameh, Tous and Aser Azadaeghan (newspapers which were all shut down in 2000), and is a member of the leadership of the Association of Iranian Journalists (which has been banned since August 2009). He was previously detained for a few days in June 2009.
As a political crisis brews in Iran over a widening rift between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the media seems to have joined in the fray. Several pro- Ahmadinejad websites could not be accessed after publishing material that supported the president’s decision to fire the intelligence minister. The minister was reinstated after Ayatollah Khamenei opposed his dismissal.
The head of the government news agency IRNA, which refused to publish Mr. Khamenei’s letter supporting the minister, is to appear for questioning by a prosecutor, even though the agency publicly apologized.
Mr. Khamenei’s office had criticized IRNA for not publishing the entire text of his speech in which he had defended his intervention into the matter of the dismissal of the minister for the sake of “supreme interest,” and described the difference between himself and the government as “of little importance.”
“After closing many newspapers and censoring the Internet, Ali Khamenei is now targeting the country’s official news agency, which he would like to reduce to nothing more than the mouthpiece of his own office,” Reporters Without Borders said.
(Muna Khan of Al Arabiya can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)