FREE ENSAFALI HEDAYAT, PRESS ORGANISATIONS URGES IRANIAN AUTHORITIES

By Safa Haeri

PARIS, 18 Mar. (IPS) Iranian and international press and human rights organizations urged Iranian clerical authorities to free Mr. Ensafali Hedayat, an Iranian independent journalist jailed more than two months ago on unspecific charges.

The 51 years-old reporter was arrested early on January after his return from Berlin, where he had covered the meeting of Iranian Republicans, attended by hundreds of Iranians, including a dozen who had come from Iran and several other journalists, most of them working for foreign-based Iranian media.

Since then, not only the authorities have kept Mr. Hedayat in jail without giving any serious reason for his detention, but also local media of both sides of the leadership have been conspicuously silent on his fate, despite several letters wrote to the President and other officials by his young daughter, asking them to provide explanation or inform the public about possible charges.

According to informed friend and family sources, Mr. Hedayat is seriously ill and needs urgent medical treatments, but the authorities refuses to provide him needed care, including visit by specialists.

An independent journalist covering Iranian political and social scene for local and foreign-based media like the Prague-based Radio Farda, Mr. Hedayat had been systematically vindicated by the authorities, forcing domestic newspapers not take any article from him.

As a result, he had sold his small apartment in Tehran and left for Tabriz, the capital city of the Eastern Azarbaijan Province, where he lives in a one room flat with his wife and two children.

Informed sources say though his contribution to Radio Farda might be one of the reasons of the authorities anger with Mr. Hedayat, but what has made the rulers so determined in humiliating him is his straight forward and factual reporting, including his outstanding coverage of the strong earthquake that hit the historical city of Bam last year, killing more than 46.000 people, detailing the shortcomings of the Iranian authorities in dealing with the tragedy.

"Why this silence. Why this void. Why no one answers. Why everybody seems to take his distance in this nation from the case of my father, Ensafali Hedayat, a courageous and proud journalist?" wrote Ms. Fatemeh Hedayat in a moving open letter to the Iranian nation.

Iranian media except a few internet sites based outside Iran have refused to publish Ms. Hedayat letters.

"I知 asking why my father is in jail and nobody answers. I知 asking what my father has done and no one say anything. But I知 proud of my father. He is a free, courageous and strong man. He would stand up and shake hands of his countrymen. No matter he is in prison, deprived of all rights, but he is in the right path and his pencil writing the truth, the plights and the pains of his countrymen without fear, nor favour", she continued.

She also confirmed in the letter that his father is seriously ill, suffering from bleeding and infections due to bad prison conditions, but "no one pays any attention".

In letters and faxes to Iranian leaders, including Ayatollah Ali Khameneh段, the leader of the Islamic Republic, Mohammad Khatami, the President and Ayatollah Mahmood Hashemi Shahroodi, the Head of the Judiciary, the Rome-based Association of Iranian Journalists Abroad (AIJA), joined by the international press watchdog Reporters Sans Frontieres called on them to free Mr. Hedayat "immediately and unconditionally" or take "all the consequences".

"Mr. Hedayat is in prison since early January and despite all inquiries, the authorities of the Islamic Republic have refused to provide any answer on the charges against the journalist", both AIJA and Reporters Without Borders said.

For its part, the executive committees of the Iranian Republicans also send a petition to the Iranian authorities, protesting to the "arbitrary" arrest of Mr. Hedayat, whom, it said, had done nothing wrong but to cover the meeting "as did several others of his colleagues".

According to the RSF, the Islamic Republic is one of the world痴 largest prison for journalists and its leader, Ayatollah Khameneh段, "one of the world痴 most dangerous predator of press freedom".

Since 1999, Iranian clerical authorities, acting on orders from Mr. Khameneh段, have shut more than 120 publications and arrested tens of leading Iranian journalist, commentators and editors, some of them still behind bars, including Hoda Saber, Taqi Rahmani, Siamak Poorzand, Reza Alijani and Iraj Jamshidi, but also lawyer Naser Zarafshan, Researcher and writer Abbas Abdi, Islamist reformer Hojjatoleslam Hasan Yusefi Eshkevar and university professor Hashem Aqajari. ENDS HEDAYAT PETITIONS 18304