Amnesty expresses concern over arrest of journalists
Prisoners of conscience/Medical concern
9 August 2000
- Hojjatoleslam Hasan Yousefi Eshkevari, researcher and journalist (diabetic),
- Ahmad Zeidabadi, journalist
- Massoud Behnoud, age 55, journalist
In a renewed crackdown on freedom of speech in Iran, the authorities
have arrested three prominent journalists. One of them is diabetic, and
has reportedly found it difficult to obtain insulin in custody. Amnesty
International considers the three men to be prisoners of conscience, detained
solely for the legitimate expression of their opinions.
Hojjatoleslam Hasan Yousefi Eshkevari was arrested on 5 August, a few
hours after he flew into Tehran. He was one of a number of Iranian journalists
and academics who attended a conference in Berlin in April, which was marked
by protests by Iranian political groups in exile. He learned that a warrant
had been issued for his arrest shortly after the conference, and had been
staying in Germany and France, effectively in exile, ever since.
Friends and well-wishers greeted him when he arrived, and he was at
home with his family when Law Enforcement Forces (LEF) officials came to
arrest him several hours later. They searched the house and then took him
to Evin prison, in the north of Tehran. He is an insulin-dependent diabetic,
and there are unconfirmed reports that he has been unable to obtain insulin
Hojjatoleslam Hasan Yousefi Eshkevari is the Director of the Ali Shariati
Research Centre. His office there was reportedly searched the day after
he was arrested. He had been a contributing editor of the newspaper Iran-e
Farda, which was banned in April 2000.
He was detained by order of the prosecutor of the Special Court for
the Clergy (SCC), reportedly for "acting against national security,"
in connection with a speech he gave at the conference, and "defaming
government officials in articles," "starting a campaign against
the system," and "denying and insulting the holy religion of
Journalist Ahmad Zeidabadi was reportedly arrested at his house on 7
August, apparently in connection with articles he wrote for newspapers
that have since been banned. A group of around a dozen plainclothes officials
apparently detained him on the orders of the Court for State Employees.
He too is reported to be at Evin prison. He had been working for the moderate
newspaper Hamshahri (The Citizen), which is owned by the city of Tehran.
The order for his arrest was reportedly only issued the day after his arrest.
Journalist Massoud Behnoud was reportedly arrested on Wednesday, 9 August
by officials from the Press Court, on the basis of more than 50 complaints
about his writing, some of which date from 1997. Massoud Behnoud wrote
for the newspaper Asr-e Azadegan (Era of the Free), which was shut down
in 1999, and the recently banned Danestani-ha (Worth Knowing). He has an
ulcer and a heart condition.
A clampdown on freedom of expression in Iran has been underway since
July 1999, when the closure of the newspaper Salam sparked nationwide protests.
Many more newspapers have since been shut down. Eighteen newspapers were
closed in April alone, and many journalists have been arrested.
These latest arrests follow the closure of four more newspapers, including
Bahar (Spring). Proposals to reform the existing press law, which would
have made it harder to prosecute journalists and editors, and which would
have shifted legal responsibility to publishers, were controversially withdrawn
after Iranian leader Ayatollah Khamenei called on the parliament (Majles)
to leave the law unchanged, in a letter read out by the Speaker on 6 August.
The authorities have arrested a number of those who took part in the
April conference at Berlin's Heinrich Böll Institute, which was marked
by strong protest by exile Iranian political groups. Three of those arrested
are reportedly still in custody.