Human Rights Watch called for the immediate release of Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, the editor-in-chief of a leading daily newspaper, Asr-e Azadegan. Shamsolvaezin is on trial before the Tehran Press Court, presided over by judge Saeid Mortazavi, and has been charged with falsifying documents.

During the past two years, Shamsolvaezin has been the editor of a number of outspoken daily newspapers, including Jame-eh, Tous and Neshat. All were closed down by the authorities. On several occasions during the month of October, Shamoslovaezin was summonded to appear before the Tehran Press Court to answer charges linked to the banning of Neshat. He was finally detained on November 3 and accused of having forged the signature of the author of an article published in Neshat, which called for the abolition of the death penalty. The author, Hossein Bagherzadeh, has freely admitted writing the article. Judge Mortazavi posted a high bail of 500 million Rials (approximately US $167,000) and because the editor has been unable to render this sum, Shamsolvaezin was sent to Evin Prison.

"The trial of Shamsolvaezin is part of a recent pattern of repressive measures taken against independent newspapers. This intimidation has noticably increased in intensity in recent months," said Hanny Megally, executive director of the organization's Middle East and North Africa division. "All the detained or convicted journalists should be immediately released."

Human Rights Watch believes that Shamsolvaezin's latest prosecution is designed to simultaneously silence him and to discourage other editors and journalists who are calling for political reforms.

There have been a number of recent high profile cases in which the right to freedom of expression has been at issue. These include the closure of Adineh, a cultural weekly, which on November 4 was shut for five years; the November 2 sentencing of three students charged with publishing an allegedly blasphemous play in Moj, a university newsletter; and the imprisonment by the Tehran Press Court on October 11, of Ms. Jaleh Oskui, the publisher of Panj-Shanbeh, after her weekly published an article in connection with a theater piece satirizing Shi'a Islam.

Today is the final day of the high-profile trial of leading reformist and publisher Hojatoleslam Abdollah Nouri before Iran's Special Court for Clergy. The prosecution, which began on October 12, accuses the publisher of Khordad newspaper of political and religious dissent for articles published in his newspaper.

Human Rights Watch called on the Iranian government to end its prosecution and detention of publishers, editors and writers for exercising their right to freedom of expression. The international monitoring group called on the Iranian authorities to respect international agreements to which it is a party and to allow the press to function independently, without threats and intimidation.