TEHRAN, 8 Jan. (IPS) As more journalists have confirmed that they had been coerced by prison authorities to make “confessions” to “wrongdoings”, Sa’id Mortazavi, the Prosecutor of Tehran and Islamic Revolution courts has threatened legal action against both the journalists and all those who alleged that detained journalists and Internet writers were abused to extract confessions and apologies.
“We will legally deal with those who have published unrealistic material that corresponds with that of the enemy media and that tries to tarnish the work of the police”, a statement from Mr. Mortazavi’s office warned.
In recent months the judiciary has been engaged in a fresh crackdown on pro-reform press and Internet sites, detaining some 20 reporters.
The warning followed damaging articles in the weblog of a former high-ranking official indicating that public confessions by some journalists and weblogers to acts against the Islamic Republic, including espionage were obtained under tortures, both physical and psychological.
“We have been told our families are in danger. We were detained in solitary cells and interrogated for hours. They forced us to tell of sexual relationships with some high-ranking personalities or between ourselves” At the end, we were tired and ready to do anything just to get out of the hell”, some of the journalists told a presidential Committee of Surveillance and control of the Constitution.
The chilling revelations were published on the “Webnevesht” internet site operated by Hojjatoleslam Mohammad Ali Abtahi, the former vice-president on Legal and Parliamentary Affairs.
The statement named Abtahi as one of the people circulating allegations “damaging the reputation of the Judiciary”.
In recent months the judiciary has been engaged in a fresh crackdown on pro-reform press and Internet sites, detaining some 20 reporters. Four of them wrote letters of repentance after being arrested.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch confirmed last week that the group of journalists and weblogers received death threats from Mortazavi after testifying to a presidential commission about their torture during detention.
But the judiciary’s statement asserted that “after being confronted with proof of their criminal actions, almost all of those accused said that they regretted having cooperating with illegal sites and they accepted their errors.”
Mortazavi denies any mistreatment of detainees and threatened to prosecute the former detainees for “allegations against security forces and prison officials that are politically motivated.”
The statement also pointed to “contradictory” comments over the treatment of detainees, pointing to the case of female writer Fereshteh Ghazi, who claimed her nose was broken in detention.
“The police consider her claim to be a lie, since after a medical check it turned out that she had had plastic surgery some months ago,” the statement said. Her allegation was aimed at ”distorting the public mind and providing fodder for the enemy and foreign media”.
When in charge of the press tribunal, Mortazavi, acting on orders from Ayatollah Ali Khameneh’i, the leader of the Islamic Republic, shut down more than 120 independent and pro-reform publications and send behind bars more than a dozen of leading Iranian journalists.
Mortazavi, promoted as Prosecutor for Tehran and the Islamic Revolution courts by Mr. Khameneh’i, is considered as the man who assassinated Ms. Zahra Kazemi, the Iranian-born Canadian photojournalist more than a year ago by beating her up to death.
The Iranian judiciary is using threats of lengthy prison sentences and coerced televised statements in an attempt to cover up its arbitrary detention and torture of internet journalists and civil society activists, Human Rights Watch said.
Since September, more than 20 internet journalists and civil society activists have been arrested and held in a secret detention center in Tehran. Most have since been released on bail.
In a public letter to President Mohammed Khatami on December 10, the father of one of those detained, Ali Mazroi—who is also president of the Association of Iranian Journalists and a former member of parliament—implicated the judiciary in the torture and secret detention of the detainees.
Immediately afterward, Judge Mortazavi filed charges against Mazro’i for libel and ordered the detention of three of the released detainees, namely Omid Me’marian, Shahram Rafi’zadeh, Rouzbeh Mir Ebrahimi and Javad Qolam Tamimi, threatened them with lengthy prison sentences if they did not deny Mazroi’s allegations.
On December 14, the four detainees were brought in front of a televised “press conference” arranged by Mortazavi, and forced to deny that they had been subjected to solitary confinement, torture and ill-treatment during their earlier detention. That evening, Iran’s government-controlled television news broadcast videotapes that showed the four detainees saying that their jailors treated them as “gently as flowers”.
The journalists’ testimonies exposed Mortazavi’s role in authorizing their torture to extract confessions and in compelling them to appear on television to deny their mistreatment while under detention.
“The brave testimony of these young journalists has reaffirmed evidence of Mortazavi’s leading role in the torture of detainees”, the human rights organisation said, adding, “It’s high time for the Iranian government to investigate Mortazavi’s abuses and bring him to justice”.
During the entire length of their detention, the prisoners were subjected to torture, beatings with electrical cables and lengthy interrogations.
Since their appearances before the commission, Mortazavi has threatened each of these former detainees with lengthy prison sentences and harm to their family members, as punishment for their testimony.
Mortazavi continues to issue numerous subpoenas for the journalists without specifying charges. His operatives also harass the journalists by phone on a daily basis.
According to HRW, on 14 December, four detainees were brought in front of a televised “press conference” arranged by Judge Mortazavi and forced to deny that they had been subjected to solitary confinement, torture and ill-treatment during their earlier detention. That evening, Iran’s government-controlled television news broadcast videotapes that showed the four detainees saying that their jailors treated them as “gently as flowers”.
The detainees had been kept at a secret location within one hour of central Tehran, where they were held in solitary confinement in small cells for up to three months. During the entire length of their detention they were subjected to torture—including beatings with electrical cables—and interrogations that lasted up to 11 hours at a stretch.
“The detainees were denied access to lawyers and to medical care when they fell ill. They were allowed family visits rarely. They were often threatened with the arrest of family members and friends if they did not cooperate. Their mental stress had reportedly reached such a level that many detainees had become suicidal”, the organisation said.
For its part, the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders Reporters has condemned the mistreatment in prison of cyberdissidents and webloggers after an Iranian committee report concluded that public confessions of some of them were obtained under duress.
"We fear that the authorities are succeeding in purging the web of all critical content through brutality, intimidation and censorship," the worldwide press freedom organisation said. "In a country in which weblogs and news sites have flourished in the past few years such a setback would be a catastrophe for freedom of expression", RSF said in a statement.
According to this international press watchdog’s' sources, the seven journalist imprisoned between October and December 2004 have been beaten, humiliated and sometimes threatened with rape by their jailers. Most of them have been accused of moral crimes that are having sexual relations outside of marriage, a pretext often used in Iran to attack political dissidents.
“Since leaving prison, police have summoned them several times a week. They also receive daily threats by phone. One police officer suggested to one of the journalists that he "watch out for cars, because a lot of pedestrians get run over in this country", the organisation added. ENDS WEBLOGGERS 8105
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