Reporters Without Borders has condemned the mistreatment in prison of cyberdissidents and webloggers after an Iranian committee report concluded that public confessions of two of them, Omid Memarian (photo right) and Rozbeh Mir Ebrahimi (photo left), were obtained under duress.
"We fear that the authorities are succeeding in purging the web of all critical content through brutality, intimidation and censorship," the worldwide press freedom organisation said. "In a country in which weblogs and news sites have flourished in the past few years such a setback would be a catastrophe for freedom of expression."
Confirmation that Memarian and Mir Ebrahimi were mistreated after their arrests in November 2004, along with a group of other online journalist, was given on 4 January 2005 in a report from the committee for Monitoring the Implementation of the Constitution, on which both conservatives and reformists sit.
Reporters Without Borders is particularly concerned about police threats against Omid Memarian, Rozbeh Mir Ebrahimi and Shahram Rafihzadeh, and pointed out that weblogger Mojtaba Saminejad, along with online journalist, Javad Gholam Tamayomi, are still in prison.
Reformist leader Ali Abtahi, a former vice-president of Iran, said that the monitoring committee, of which he is a member, had carried out an investigation into mistreatment in prison of journalists in the 'Internet cases'.
"We took evidence from these journalists who have told us that they have suffered torture in prison", he said. The report was handed over to President Mohammad Khatami. The monitoring committee is a consultative body that has no legal authority.
Ali Abtahi said on his weblog that the testimony of Omid Memarian and Rozbeh Mir Ebrahimi "made committee members weep".
According to Reporters Without Borders' sources, the seven journalist imprisoned between October and December 2004 have been beaten, humiliated and sometimes threatened with rape by their jailers. Most of them have been accused of moral crimes, that is having sexual relations outside of marriage, a pretext often used in Iran to attack political dissidents.
Since leaving prison, police have summoned them several times a week. They also receive daily threats by phone. One police officer suggested to one of the journalists that he "watch out for cars, because a lot of pedestrians get run over in this country".
Javad Gholam Tamayomi, Omid Memarian, Shahram Rafihzadeh, Hanif Mazroi, Rozbeh Mir Ebrahimi, Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh and Fereshteh Ghazi were all arrested, between October and November 2004 as part of a crackdown against the online press. All of them, apart from Javad Gholam Tamayomi, were released at the beginning of December.
In an open letter and then at a 14 December press conference, Memarian and Mir Ebrahimi both said they had not been mistreated in detention. Reporters Without Borders dismissed their confessions as "phoney" since they had been made under pressure from the authorities (see article).
Five webloggers were imprisoned during the same period (see article). Only Mojtaba Saminejad who was arrested at the beginning of November for condemning the arrests of colleagues in his blog is still being held.
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