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US human rights group calls for press freedom in Iran

NICOSIA, Oct 12 (AFP) - Newspapers and journalists in Iran are under attack, and the government should protect press freedom by enshrining it in law, a prominent US human rights group said Tuesday.

"Independent newspaper editors, publishers and journalists ... are suffering arbitrary detention, assault and prosecution," said a report issued by Human Rights Watch.

"The press has become a human-rights victim in Iran 's political struggle. The only way to protect press freedom is to write it clearly into law," said Hanny Megally of HRW.

The group expressed concern that the Iranian parliament is currently discussing amendments to the existing press law that would allegedly make the situation of journalists even more perilous, exposing them to trial in exceptional courts where international standards of fairness are ignored.

The HRW report charts the history of the press under moderate President Mohammad Khatami, who came to power in 1997.

Under Khatami a diverse independent press has flourished, but at the same time has come under attack from conservative forces in the courts, and from armed groups who have beaten journalists and ransacked newspaper offices.

The report pointed to the closure of the moderate Neshat newspaper last month and the sentencing of its publisher to a 30 month suspended prison term. Neshat was the fourth reformist paper to be closed this year.

On Monday a female newspaper editor, Jaleh Oskui, head of the Penj- Shanbeh-ha (Thursdays) weekly, was placed in custody after the paper's repeated publication of "outrageous" articles that "offended public morality and decency," the official IRNA news agency said.

The same day, the managing director of the English-language daily Tehran Times, Abbas Salimi Namin, was summoned by a military court for "revealing secrets and publishing some false reports," IRNA reported.

The banning of another daily, Salam, in July set off student protests that erupted in six days of bloody riots after demonstrators were attacked by security forces and Islamic hardliners.

It was the worst unrest in Iran since the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic revolution.


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