12/15/2006, 00.00
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Iran: bloggers critical of government on trial

The only evidence is confessions obtained under duress in jail. The Iranian judiciary confirmed that the defendants were indeed abused in detention. Human Rights Watch notes: it is the victims who wind up in court instead of the torturers.

Teheran (AsiaNews/HRW) – As government-controlled television channels and newspapers today urged people to vote and the Supreme Guide himself made an appeal for participation in the polls, a trial behind closed doors started in Teheran against four internet bloggers who criticized the government. They are charged with activities against the state but human rights groups claim the accused are on trial for expressing their opinion and they were forced to make false confessions under torture in prison. And at the end of the day, it is the victims who wind up in court instead of the torturers.

The four men (Roozbeh Mirebrahimi, Shahram Rafizadeh, Omid Memarian e Javad Gholam Tamimi) were accused of “propaganda against the state,” “participation in formation of groups to disturb national security,” “dissemination of disinformation to disturb public opinion by writing articles for newspapers and illegal internet sites,” and “interviews with foreign radio broadcasts.”

The human rights watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) said a group of 21 bloggers, who wrote on internet news sites known to be critical of the government, was arrested in September and October 2004. Following domestic and international protests, the authorities ordered the release of all the detainees but four were first coerced to sign written confessions by Teheran’s prosecutor general, Saeed Mortazavi. No charges were filed against the other 17.

The lawyers of the four defendants said the only evidence consisted of their confessions in which they admit to forming part of “dreadful network operating inside and directed from outside the country” that instructed them to write articles aimed at “sabotaging the image of the Islamic Republic of Iran” by portraying government actions as “anti-human rights.”  
Upon their release, all the men said they had been tortured and that their confessions had been obtained under duress.
Rafizadeh told HRW he had been held in solitary confinement for 86 days in a cell that measured “barely five feet by six feet (1.5 by 2 metres) and that during interrogation, he was “mercilessly beaten” for more than 40 days, while he was handcuffed and blindfolded.

Mirebrahimi also told HRW that “after 60 days of isolation and ill treatment, the interrogator informed me that I will be released if I sign a confession letter.” One day after his release, “Mortazavi told me: ‘The release of your friends is dependent on publishing your confession letter. If you don’t do it, not only will they not be released, but we will put you back in prison.’”

 An inquiry was held following their allegations. HRW said that back in 20 April 2005, Jamal Karimirad, spokesman of the head of the Judiciary, Ayatollah Mahmoud Shahrudi, confirmed that the detainees had been abused and thus induced to write their confessions. But the report was never published.

Sarah Leah Whitson, director of the HRW Middle East division, said that the justice system could not try a person “on the basis of written confessions that it [the judiciary] admits were coerced”. Rather it should “try those responsible for the torture”. The trial, she added, struck “government critics”.

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