Government Broadens Its Crackdown on Freedom of Expression
February 24, 2005
The Iranian government is sending a message to its critics: keep silent or face years in prison.
Widney Brown, deputy program director of Human Rights Watch

The Iranian government sentenced the prominent blogger Arash Cigarchi to 14 years in prison for expressing his opinions on the Internet and in the international press, marking a new low for freedom of expression in Iran, Human Rights Watch said today.

“The Iranian government is sending a message to its critics: keep silent or face years in prison,” said Widney Brown, deputy program director of Human Rights Watch.

In the northern province of Gilan, the revolutionary court issued the sentence on February 2. However, the court made its ruling public only on February 22. Charges brought against Cigarchi include espionage, “aiding and abating hostile governments and opposition groups,” endangering national security and insulting Iran’s leaders. The court based its decision on a report by the intelligence ministry agents who arrested Cigarchi on January 17.

Cigarchi’s trial violated international standards for fair trials. It was held behind closed doors and in absence of his lawyer; it is not known if Cigarchi himself was even present. Since his arrest over a month ago, he has not been allowed to meet with his lawyer.

Cigarchi’s lawyer, Mohammad Saifzadeh, told Human Rights Watch that his client’s summons, arrest and the search and seizure of his personal documents were marked by numerous irregularities and illegal actions. Saifzadeh is planning to file a formal protest against the court’s ruling.

“This outrageous sentence follows the sham trial of a person who should never have been arrested in the first place,” said Brown.

Cigarchi’s sentence comes on the heels of a systematic crackdown on freedom of speech in Iran. The Iranian authorities have targeted bloggers and internet journalists, arresting dozens in the past year.

On February 5 a cleric in the city of Qom who wrote social and political commentary on his blog, Mojtaba Lotfi, was sentenced to three years and 10 months imprisonment by the Special Court for the Clergy. A widely-read political blogger, Mojtaba Saminezhad, was initially detained on November 1 and held for 88 days in solitary confinement, where he was tortured. He was released on January 27 but was detained again on February 13 after his bail was set at 1 billion Iranian rial (or $127,000).

In addition, a number of political activists have been recently detained and held without charge. On January 26, agents from the intelligence ministry detained the political activist Abass Khorsandi, who is now being held in solitary confinement in section 209 of Evin prison in Tehran. Another political activist, Nargis Adib, was seized at her house on February 8 and is also being held in Evin prison. The authorities have failed to provide any information regarding these arbitrary detentions.

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