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An Iranian journalist may have made prison suicide attempt

Reporters Without Borders is very concerned about a journalist on the weekly Tamadone Hormozgan, Elham Afrotan, imprisoned since 23 January 2006, after some reports obtained by the organisation said she was in a coma after a suicide attempt.

"We urge the Iranian authorities to provide information about Afrotan's fate. We have had no news of her since the first day of her detention," the press freedom organisation said. "She has not been allowed to see a lawyer, or her colleagues and family. We hold the Iranian government responsible for anything that might endanger her physical wellbeing," it added.

"The case of Elham Afrotan reminds us painfully of that of another woman journalist, Zahra Kazemi, who died from torture in prison. Her death was only announced more than 20 days later," it added.

Since her arrest on 23 January, Afrotan and six other colleagues on the newspaper have been harassed in an attempt to get them to confess that "they were receiving orders from abroad inciting them to insult the Ayatollah Khomeini".

Misled by the headline of an article on a website dedicated to combating AIDS, the staff reproduced it in the newspaper's health section. It turned out to be a satirical piece comparing the advent of Ayatollah Khomeini to AIDS.

The journalists were arrested in the southern city of Bandar Abbas, where the newspaper is based, as soon as the issue appeared on the streets. Pro-government media, governmental organisations and Koranic schools reacted by staging demonstrations that ended with the newspaper's offices being ransacked and torched.

According to the daily Hamabasteghi, the governor of Hormozgan province Abdolreza Shikholeslam confirmed the journalist's "suicide" but provided no further information about her.

Elsewhere, Ali Afsahi, cinema critic and former editor of the cultural and sports magazine Cinama-Varzech, which was shut down in 2000, was arrested on 12 February.

He had previously been arrested on 30 December 2000 and sentenced to four months in prison by a special clerical court. A few days before his arrest, he had been summoned and questioned for several hours about his journalistic and humanitarian work.

Afsahi is a colleague of Emadoldin Ebaghi, journalist and founder of an organisation that champions the rights of prisoners of opinion.

Copyright (c) 2006 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

... Payvand News - 2/20/06 ... --

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