“The award of this title to Mortazavi would be the height of absurdity if the situation were not so tragic”
PARIS 18 Apr. (IPS) The Islamic Republic of Iran added insult to injury last week by awarding the prize of “Merit” and “Best Servant” to Mr. Sa’id Mortazavi, a judge responsible for the closure of more than one hundred newspapers, magazines and publications and the arrest of dozen of leading journalists on the orders of his boss, Ayatollah Ali Khameneh'i.
The decision was greeted with increased concern among Iranian press, scholar and intelligentsia circles seeing in it the regime’s intention to continue crackdown on the press and free expression, already drastically limited, as seen by the 18 months imprisonment a court in the north-eastern city of Tabriz cut for Mr. Ensafali Hedayat, an independent reporter, accused of “espionage, propaganda against the Islamic Republic” and “insulting the regime’s officials, including the leader”.
“The award of this title to Mortazavi would be the height of absurdity if the situation were not so tragic”, the Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF, or Reporters Without Borders) said, adding that the Islamic Republic was “just highlighting its arbitrary and repressive nature by celebrating this travesty of justice”.
Mr. Mortazavi, promoted some months ago by Mr. Khameneh'i to the rank of both Tehran and Islamic Revolution Tribunal Prosecutor, is one of the men suspected of having personally interrogated and tortured Ms. Zahra Kazemi, an Iranian-Canadian photojournalist who died in a military hospital in Tehran after being hit on the head with a heavy object during interrogations.
The 51 Hedayat had been arrested last January on his return from Berlin, where, like many other colleagues, he had covered the meeting of Iranian republicans, attended by more than 800 participants, including a delegation from Iran itself.
However, in his trial, the judge dropped the espionage accusation, but kept the two other charges.
During the trial, Mr. Hedayat told the open court that though he never insulted any body let alone the leaders, but if propaganda against the regime means not being a yeas man to the authorities and writing only what they like to read, then he accepts the accusation.
“My duty is not writing and reporting what the authorities and official say, but to inform and tell the people what is happening, exposing the wrong doings, the shortcomings, the real problems the country faces”
“My duty is not writing and reporting what the authorities and official say, but to inform and tell the people what is happening, exposing the wrong doings, the shortcomings, the real problems the country faces”, he told the audience.
Mr. Hedayat was previously arrested on 16 June 2003 at Tabriz University while covering student protests. He utterly angered the authorities after he published the circumstances of his arbitrary detention by security and intelligence services, the horrible condition of his detention, the long hours of interrogations while in solitary confinement and physical and psychological tortures he endured.
While his many supporters among Iranian journalists, scholars and intellectuals outside as well as international and Iranian press organisations called on the authorities to free Mr. Hedayat unconditionally, deploring the 18-month prison sentence passed on him they also expressed concern on the situation of Mr. Siamak Poorzand, an old veteran journalist imprisoned since March last year on charges of espionage, collaboration with foreign-based media and organisations, including monarchist movements and propaganda against the Islamic Republic.
In a statement released last week, the international press watchdog voiced concern about the state of health of jailed 75-year-old Poorzand and also expressed “outrage” at the UN Human Rights Commission's failure to condemn the Islamic Republic during its 60th session.
The organisation warned that Poorzand's life could be in great danger if he is not released immediately and given appropriate treatment. He has been paralysed for months and suffered a heart attack on 31 March that left him in a coma for 36 hours.
“The refusal to free him on medical grounds suggests that the authorities have failed to learn any lesson from the death of photojournalist Zahra Kazemi on 10 July 2003 from a beating received in detention”, the organisation said, calling for the release of all 12 journalists currently imprisoned in Iran.
"Amid these sinister developments, it is outrageous that none of the member countries of the UN Human Rights Commission, not even the countries of the European Union, has until now tabled a resolution condemning Iran", Reporters Without Borders added.
A freelance contributor to several independent newspapers and the animator of an artistic centre, Mr. Poorzand is bedridden with osteoarthritis of the neck and disk problems that need an operation. He went into a coma after a heart attack two weeks ago. He spent months in solitary confinement and was forced to confess on television by means of psychological pressure and torture.
Poorzand was previously arrested on 24 November 2001 and sentenced in May 2002 to eight years in prison for "actions against state security and links with monarchists and counter-revolutionaries".
He had been allowed home in December 2002 before been returned to prison in March 2003.
“With 12 journalists detained, Iran is the biggest prison for the press in the Middle East and Mr. Khameneh'i one of the world’s most dangerous predator of press freedom”, the RSF said. ENDS ENSAFALI HEDAYAT CONDEMNED 18404