PARIS, 10 Jan. (IPS) The International press watchdog Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders) expressed Saturday its indignation at the prison conditions of 11 Iranian journalists, most of them ill and in a very physically and psychologically weakened state.

In a statement released from Paris, the international press freedom organisation renews its objections to the often-arbitrary detention of the journalists and calls for their immediate and unconditional release.

"It is completely unacceptable for journalists like Siamak Pourzand, who is sick and 74-years old, to still be held in solitary confinement", said RSF’s Secretary general Robert Ménard.

"The same goes for Alireza Jabari, 60, who is suffering from heart problems and has even received 253 lashes. The journalists' families are not even allowed to bring warm clothing to the sick prisoners", Ménard said, adding that Reporters Without Borders remained "very concerned" by the cases of Taghi Rahmani, Reza Alijani and Hoda Saber, whose legal position was unclear at the least and for whom the legal period of being held in custody had long ago passed.

Ordered by Ayatollah Ali Khameneh'i, the leader of the Islamic Republic, the Judiciary started a massive crackdown on Iranian independent and reform seeking journalists in 1998, resulting in the closure of more than one hundred publications and the imprisonment of a dozen of leading and influential journalists and editors, while others were either silenced or forced to leave the country, like Mr. Mas’ood Behnood, a veteran journalist and commentator who now lives in Britain.

Released on the eve of a visit to Iran by Mr. Xavier Solana, the 15-25 members European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Relations and Security Affaires, RSF intends to remind the international community, particularly the Europeans of the appalling situation of Iranian journalists, a spokeswoman for the RSF said.

"Though Solana’s visit, to start on Sunday, is primarily connected with political issues, chief among them Iran’s nuclear programmes, but we want him to put on the table the case of Iranian journalists who are in prison illegally, most of them detained for years without trial and access to lawyers and communication with their relatives", the spokeswoman told the Persian service of the BBC.

Information about the 11 jailed journalists:

- Siamak Pourzand, freelance journalist for several independent newspapers and in charge of an artistic and cultural centre, sentenced to eight years in prison, has been jailed since November 2000. This 74-year-old veteran journalist has been put under heavy psychological pressure and has been tortured during interrogation. In an open letter his wife Mehrangiz Kaar, a human rights activist and lawyer receiving medical treatment in the United States, he said he was held in solitary confinement in the basement of Evin Jail. According to a diagnosis given on 30 July 2003 at the Imam Khomeini Hospital in Teheran, he is suffering from an arthritic neck and worrying disc problems that will require an operation. He is unable to walk and to attend to his daily needs".

- Alireza Jabbari, journalist with the monthly "Adineh", jailed since 17 March 2003, was sentenced to three years in prison and 253 lashes. At over 60 years old, Mr. Jabari has heart problems. Held in a cell with common-law prisoners, he has been treated even worse since a letter detailing his prison conditions was published on an Internet site. Prison authorities refuse to allow his wife to bring him warm clothing.

- Hassan Youssefi Eshkevari, a cleric journalist writing for the "Iran Farda" bi-monthly, sentenced to seven years in prison, has been jailed since 5 August 2000. Diabetic and insulin-dependent and suffering from bleeding from his eyes, he was given a temporary release to seek medical treatment but his doctors say he urgently needs intensive care outside of prison.

- Akbar Ganji, journalist and writer working with the daily "Sobh Emouz", sentenced to six years in prison, has been jailed since 2 April 2000. Suffering from an acute throat disorder, he was allowed a 10-day pass for treatment but doctors believe he needs an urgent operation.

- Iraj Jamshidi, editor in chief of the financial daily "Asia", held in detention since 6 July 2003, has still not been tried. On the eve of a visit from the UN special rapporteur, Ambeyi Ligabo, he was transferred from his isolation cell to a dormitory. Since then he has been returned to the basement of Evin Jail. He has been allowed only one visit, coinciding with Ligabo's trip.

- Alireza Ahmadi, also of "Asia", jailed since 29 July 2003, and still remanded in custody.
- Hoseyn Ghazian, journalist and researcher with the daily "Norouz", sentenced to four and a half years in prison and jailed since 31 October 2002.

- Abbas Abdi, of the daily "Salam", sentenced to four and a half years in prison and held since 4 November 2002.

- Taghi Rahmani, of "Omid Zandjan", daily imprisoned since 14 June 2003, for no official reason, has been held in solitary confinement for nearly two months and has not been allowed to receive any visitors since 6 December. He was reportedly sentenced on appeal, in another case, to 13 years in jail.

- Reza Alijani, editor in chief of "Iran Farda" and laureate of the Reporters Without Borders-Fondation de France press freedom prize, imprisoned since 14 June 2003, for no official reason, held in solitary confinement for nearly two months and not allowed any visitors since 6 December. He was reportedly sentenced on appeal in another case to six years in prison.

Hoda Saber, managing editor of "Iran Farda", also held since 14 June 2003. He was reportedly sentence on appeal in another case to ten years in prison.

It must be stated that all the above-mentioned newspapers and publications are closed down.

The Association for the Defence of Prisoners' Rights, set up at the end of December by the journalist and writer Emadeddin Baqi (given a one-year suspended jail sentence on 4 December) and human rights activist, on 6 December 2003 released a statement in Teheran condemning the situation of Iran's jailed journalists.

A petition signed by more than 1,000 university students and professors was published and addressed to the "Iranian people" on 5 January 2004 denounced the "arbitrary and illegal detention" of Taghi Rahmani, Reza Alijani and Hoda Saber, all three associated with the Nationalist-religious groups, and called for their immediate release of all political prisoners from jail.

Mr. Masha’allah Shamsolva’ezin, a well-known commentator and editor of several popular newspapers shut by the Judiciary who is the spokesman of the Centre for the Defence of Journalists also condemned the arrests and imprisonment of fellow pressmen. ENDS IRAN JOURNALISTS 10104