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Concern mounts for leading Iranian journalist as MPs condemn "torture"

By Chris De Bellaigue In Tehran
The Independent (London)
February 26, 2001

ONE OF IRAN'S most distinguished journalists has suffered so much "psychological torture" since his arrest last December that he "barely recognised his family" when he appeared in court, a reformist deputy told the Majlis, or parliament, yesterday.

Fatemeh Hakikatjou, an MP in the Participation Front, said that Ezzatollah Sahabi seemed "mentally unbalanced" when he appeared at a hearing to answer charges in connection with a speech he made last year.

Mohammad Baqer Zakeri, another reformist deputy, made similar allegations concerning Mr Sahabi and a prominent student leader, Ali Afshari. "I have heard they have made shocking confessions'. We have heard that before, about people making shocking and strange confessions under the worst duress," the official IRNA news agency quoted him as saying.

The welfare of Mr Sahabi, a diabetic in his seventies, has been a source of acute concern since he was arrested in December, along with Mr Afshari. For three weeks after that, the men's whereabouts were a mystery even to their families, prompting the parliamentary speaker to intervene to find out where they were being held.

The pair have been charged with insulting Iran's Supreme Leader and "propagandising against the system", when they addressed students at Tehran's Amir Kabir University in November. Mr Sahabi criticised the record of Iran's Islamic republic. Mr Afshari suggested the Supreme Leader's constitutional position could be put to a referendum.

The arrest of the respected Mr Sahabi, who spent 12 years in jail for resisting the Shah, was seen as proof of an intensification of the hardline judicial campaign against supporters of Mohammad Khatami, Iran's reformist president. Mr Khatami is said to be so depressed by this campaign that it is unclear whether he will stand for re-election in June.

After Mr Sahabi's arrest, four more journalists from his Iran Farda magazine were also arrested. Iran Farda was one of about 30 reformist publications banned last year.

Another MP, Fatemeh Haqiqatjou, told parliament that armed security men had recently assaulted a female journalist in front of her children at her home. In Iran it is a taboo for a man to touch a women he does not know. Ms Haqiqatjou said security officers had beaten Fariba Davoudi Mohajera, a journalist at the reformist newspaper Hambastegi, last week before taking the journalist away on the orders of the hardline judiciary. The charges against Ms Mohajera have not yet been disclosed.


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