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Iran jails 7, sentences 1, returns Blogfather to prison

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New York, December 14, 2010--In a continuation of its relentless attack on independent and opposition media, Iranian authorities have arrested three journalists from the daily Sharq, bringing the number of the newspaper's incarcerated staffers to seven in less than a week, according to news reports. In other developments, veteran journalist Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, at left, has been sentenced to 16 months in prison, the BBC reported, and blogger Hossein Derakhshan was returned to jail after being temporarily released on bail, according to a blog entry posted by his family on Saturday. 

"The fact that this campaign of oppression has not succeeded in silencing the media shows its futility," said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ's Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. "We call on Iran, the world's leading jailer of journalists, to change the course it has clearly chosen--one of unrelenting violence."

Iranian security agents detained four journalists during two raids on the offices of the reformist daily Sharq on December 7, CPJ research shows. Two days later, Amir Hadi Anvari, economic reporter for Sharq, was taken into custody, according to domestic news reports. On Sunday, two more Sharq journalists were detained: Political reporter Rayhaneh Tabatabaee was arrested at her father's home and Mehran Faraji, a reporter who covers domestic social issues, was also arrested, reformist news websites reported. On Wednesday, Tehran's General and Revolutionary Courts Prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi said that the arrests were based on "security charges," but did not provide additional details, the news website Jonbesh-e Rah-e Sabz reported.

On Friday, a Tehran Revolutionary Court sentenced Shamsolvaezin, a renowned media analyst, deputy chairman of the Iranian Journalists Association, and spokesman for the Committee for the Defense of Freedom, to 16 months in prison, the BBC Persian service reported. Shamsolvaezin was a 2000 recipient of CPJ's International Press Freedom Award for courage and independence in reporting the news. He is charged with "insulting the president" and "weakening the Islamic Republic regime." Shamsolvaezin told Agence France-Presse that he was "sentenced to one year in prison on the charge of undermining the establishment for giving interviews to foreign television networks and news agencies."

"I was also given a four-month sentence for calling Ahmadinejad a megalomaniac in an interview with Al-Arabiya TV, which the prosecutors misinterpreted as crazy and so insulting the president," the journalist told AFP. The veteran journalist has 20 days to appeal the verdict.

"We call on the Iranian judiciary to overturn this outrageous sentence against Mashallah Shamsolvaezin and release him immediately," said Abdel Dayem.

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Derakhshan, at right, a veteran Iranian blogger arrested two years ago, was released on December 9 after posting bail of US$1.5 million, the BBC reported. After less than 48 hours on furlough, he was taken back to prison. "It was unexpected, but finally, after months of effort and patience, they agreed that Hossein would spend two days outside the prison and next to us," said a blog entry posted by his family. "He returned to prison early this morning. It was short but sweet." In September, Derakhshan, known as the "Blogfather" for his pioneering online work, was sentenced to 19 and a half years in prison. He was charged with "collaborating with hostile governments, creating propaganda against the Islamic regime and propaganda in favor of anti-revolutionary groups, blasphemy, and organizing and managing obscene and vulgar websites."

Iran was tied with China as the world's worst jailer of journalists with 34 behind bars when CPJ conducted its 2010 prison census on December 1. Since then, Tehran has detained at least seven more journalists and released one. Kouhyar Goudarzi, journalist and human rights activist, was released today from Rajaee Shahr Prison after completing a one-year sentence, according to the Committee of Human Rights Reporters' website.

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