Ban Ki-moon asked to intercede on behalf of two journalists under sentence of death

Reporters Without Borders wrote yesterday to United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon urging him to intercede in the case of Adnan Hassanpour and Abdolvahed Botimar, two journalists who were sentenced to death on 16 July, and to ask the Islamic Republic of Iran to adhere to the international treaties it has signed concerning civil and political rights.

“Their most basic rights were violated as they were barred from court when the sentence was handed down,” the letter said. “Even more egregiously, they were not notified of the sentence and only found out from a newspaper.”

Hassanpour and Botimar (who is also known as “Hiva”), were allowed a visit from a family member in their prison in Sanandaj, in Iran’s Kurdish northwestern region, on 8 August. They discovered they had been sentenced to death from a report in the daily Kayhan. They have been on hunger strike for nearly 30 days, and are consuming only water to which some sugar is added.

The letter pointed out that 11 journalists are currently in prison in Iran for trying to do their job. Some are serving sentences imposed in trials with no due process. Others are being held without trial. The prison conditions are appalling and they are denied access to the medical treatment they need.

“Journalists are being harassed and threatened by the regime, which is waging a witch-hunt against the independent media.” the letter said. “Many of them have been brought into court on charges which are baseless but are deemed admissible by a compliant judicial system.”

The letter concluded: “These men need to know that they have your support. If the United Nations were to intercede on their behalf, they would be able to recover a degree of dignity and the freedom to work as journalists. We are convinced that you could find ways and arguments to get Iran to respect the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which it has signed.”

Of the nine other journalists currently in prison, Soheil Assefi, is the one who was arrested most recently. A contributor to several news media, he was detained when he responded to a summons and presented himself to a Tehran court on 4 August, four days after officials from the prosecutor’s office searched his home, taking personal documents and computer material. He is now being held in Tehran’s Evin prison on unknown charges. He was able to telephone a relative on 9 August but has not been allowed to receive visits.

Farshad Gorbanpour, who was arrested for no clear reason on 31 July, is also being held in Evin prison. According to his wife, who was able to visit him once, he is charged with “activity against national security” and could be released if he pays bail of 200 million touman (the equivalent of 158,000 euros).

Journalist Ako Kurdnasab of the Sanandaj-based weekly Karfto was arrested at his newspaper by intelligence ministry officials on 21 July after one of the city’s courts opened an investigation against him. He is now awaiting trial in Sanandaj prison. His family has had no word from him and does not know what he is charged with.

Ejlal Ghavami of Payam-e Mardom-e Kurdestan (a weekly that was closed by the authorities in 2004) has been detained since 9 July, a month after a Sanandaj court sentenced him on 9 June to three years in prison for “inciting populations to revolt”and “activity against national security.” He has an eye infection. Payam-e Mardom-e Kurdestan editor Mohammad Sadegh Kabovand was arrested on 1 July and sent to Evin prison, where he staged an eight-day hunger strike in protest against his solitary confinement. Reporters Without Borders has been told that he is under a great deal of pressure to deny information published by the Kurdistan Human Rights Organisation, of which he is one of the founders. He is also reportedly charged with “activity against national security.”

Said Matinpour of Yarpagh (an Azeri-language weekly based in Tehran) has been detained since 28 May, when he and his wife were arrested at their home in the northwestern city of Zanjan. He was transferred to Tehran two days later and is now being held in security section 209 in Evin prison. He has not been charged and neither his relatives nor his lawyer have been able to see him.

Three other journalists have been held since last year. Kaveh Javanmard of Karfto was arrested on 18 December in Sanandaj and was sentenced during a secret trial on 17 May to two years in prison for “inciting revolt” and “activity against national security.” Ali Farahbakhsh, a contributor to several business newspapers including Sarmayeh, was arrested on 27 November and was sentenced on 26 March to three years in prison for spying. He is currently being held in Evin prison’s security section 209, where he has for some time been deprived of his medicine.

Finally, Mohammad Hassin Falahieh of the state TV station Al-Alam’s Arabic-language service has been detained since last November. He was convicted of spying by a revolutionary court on 29 April and is now serving a three years sentence in Evin prison’s security section 209. His lawyer says he is ill and needs treatment.

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