Reporters Without Borders condemns the recent arrests of Mohammad Seifzadeh, a human rights lawyer who has defended several imprisoned journalists, and Alireza Rajai, a journalist who writes for several reformist newspapers.
A founder member of Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi’s Centre for Human Rights Defenders, Seifzadeh managed to tell his family on 22 April that he had been arrested two weeks before by intelligence ministry officials in the northwestern city of Urmia and was still being held there on a charge of “acting against national security.” It was the first the family had heard from him since his arrest.
His son, who was able to see him the next day for just two minutes, told news media that he was not well. His lawyer, who also went to Urmia, was not allowed to speak to him.
Last October, a revolutionary court in Tehran sentenced Seifzadeh to nine years in prison and a ten-year ban on working as lawyer because of his work for the Centre for Human Rights Defenders. Two other leading human rights lawyers, Abdolfattah Soltani and Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, have been imprisoned and sentenced in the wake of the protests against President Mahmoud Ahamadinejad’s reelection in June 2009.
The Centre for Human Rights Defenders is a coalition of human rights activists and lawyers who defend political prisoners, including journalists. Since 2006, the government has deemed the centre’s activities to be “illegal” but the centre disputes that decision.
Another leading member of the centre, Nasrin Sotoudeh, has been detained since 5 September 2010 and has been given an 11-year jail sentence. Seifzadeh’s arrest is yet one more sign that the repression is continuing in Iran. The almost systematic arrests of human rights lawyers are unacceptable. Reporters Without Borders urges lawyers’ associations throughout the world to demand their immediate release.
It is not known where the journalist Alireza Rajai has been held since his arrest by intelligence ministry officials on 24 April. The government news agency Fars News, which works closely with the security services, accused him of “acting against national security.” He has worked for the newspapers Jameh, Tous and Aser Azadaeghan (which were all closed in 2000) and is a member of the leadership of the Association of Iranian Journalists (which has been banned since August 2009). He was previously held for a few days in June 2009.
Pro-government media have meanwhile fallen victim to rivalry between the factions led by President Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Several pro- Ahmadinejad websites were rendered inaccessible after posting articles supporting the president’s 17 April decision to fire the intelligence minister. The minister remains at his post after Ayatollah Khamenei opposed his dismissal.
The head of the government news agency IRNA, who had refused to publish a letter by Khamenei supporting the minister, has been summoned for questioning by the Tehran prosecutor’s office, despite having apologized publicly.
In a 21 April communiqué, Khamenei’s office severely criticized IRNA for just publishing an article about Khamenei latest speech instead of publishing the entire text, in which he defended his intervention on behalf of the dismissed minister in the name of the “supreme interest” and described the difference between himself and the government as “of little importance.”
“After closing many newspapers and censoring the Internet, Ali Khamenei is now targeting the country’s official news agency, which he would like to reduce to nothing more than the mouthpiece of his own office,” Reporters Without Borders said.