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DEATH PENALTY: Two Kurdish Journalists on Iran&#39s Death Row

Kimia Sanati

TEHRAN, Aug 1 2007 (IPS) - Kurdish human rights and political groups have launched an Internet campaign to save the lives of Adnan Hasanpoor and Abdolvahed (Hiva) Bootimar, two Iranian Kurdish journalists who were sentenced to death on Jul. 16 by a revolutionary tribunal in the Iranian Kurdish city of Marivan.

Hasanpoor was found guilty of &#39moharebe&#39 (taking up arms against the Islamic state) and espionage. The charge of espionage rested on telephone interviews he gave to the foreign media, including the Voice of America, his lawyer was quoted as saying by the Iranian Labour News Agency.

Bootimar was also tried on the charge of moharebe, fellow Kurdish journalist Khosrow Kurdpoor told IPS. Kurdpoor, who runs the Mukrian News website, was quoting the lawyer who represented the two journalists.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF – Reporters sans frontières), the international press freedom watchdog, has voiced deep concern over the sentences of the two journalists and appealed to the international community to ask Iran to reverse its decision and refrain from executing the two men "who only exercised their right to inform their fellow citizens".

Iran is on its way to becoming one of the world&#39s biggest prisons for journalists, RSF said.

"We know nothing about the trial procedures but we know they held Hiva (Bootimar) and Adnan (Hasanpoor) in jail for several months before their trials. Hiva, who is an environmentalist and one of the founders of the Marivan&#39s Sabzchiya environment protection society, has apparently been tried on the &#39charge of affiliation to a political group that has armed struggle in its charter&#39," a Kurdish human rights activist, who requested anonymity, told IPS.

"He is not known to have had any such connections himself, but there are rumours that he is being held as hostage to make his brother, who has fled the country, return," said the activist.

Asu, the Kurdish language weekly to which Hasanpoor and Bootimar contributed, was banned on Aug. 4, 2005, forcing it to halt its reporting of the riots that broke out in Mahabad, western Iran, and which spread to other Kurdish-populated towns and villages of western Iran.

The unrest that lasted for over a month in the Kurdish areas was provoked by the death of Shwane Qaderi, a 25-year-old who was shot by the police on the streets of Mahabad. His body was then tied to a military vehicle and dragged through the streets of the city.

Pictures of Qaderi&#39s tortured body could be seen on the Internet and angry crowds in Kurdish towns and villages attacked government offices and banks. The riots and demonstrations left scores of people dead and injured. Hundreds were arrested.

On Jul. 13, Abdolsamad Nasiri, 17, was beaten to death by security agents in Mahabad, Kurdistan Media, the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan&#39s publication centre, reported.

"The circumstances of the youth&#39s death are not clear but the atmosphere in the city that day had been very tense and many shops had closed to commemorate the anniversary of the assassination of Abdolrahman Qasemlou, leader of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan, in 1989 in Vienna," the Kurdish activist told IPS.

The Iranian government, accused of orchestrating the assassination by Kurdish parties and groups, has always denied any connection with the killing of the expatriate Kurdish leader.

The Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan is the oldest Kurdish political party. Last month, on the anniversary of the assassination of its leader, the party called on the people in Kurdish cities to turn off their lights for three minutes in protest.

On the same day, spontaneous rallies in a number of Kurdish cities were reported by Kurdish news websites. Shops were also reported closed as a sign of protest for what the Kurds say is huge discrimination against them in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Iranian Kurds, who had largely been submissive before the Islamic Revolution of 1978, rose up against the new regime along with some other ethnic minorities, demanding the right to self-determination. After several years of armed struggle, various Kurdish groups, most of them with leftist leanings, were brought under control.

Since the fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the establishment of the Kurdish Authority in northern Iraq, Iranian Kurds have once again been pursuing their demands with greater vigour. But armed struggle is no longer on the agenda of many of the groups who fought the central government two decades ago. Many say they are now seeking federalism.

Only the PJAK (Partiya Jiyana Azad Kurdistane or Party for Free Life of Kurdistan), a small guerrilla group, still carries out armed operations against the government forces. It is said to be affiliated to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

The PJAK has bases in Turkey and northern Iraq and the Iranian government occasionally launches cross-border raids against its bases. The guerrillas downed an Iranian Revolutionary Guards helicopter in western Iran in March this year, killing two top brass revolutionary guards and seven other military staff.

"In recent years the people in Kurdish populated areas have increasingly chosen civil and peaceful methods over violence in their struggle. For example, in protest against the death sentence passed on Adnan Hasanpoor, the market and shops were closed in Marivan," Kurdpoor told IPS.

Three other Kurdish journalists and human rights activists, Aku Kordnasab, Ejlal Qavami and Mohammad Sadiq Kaboudvand, arrested during the past month, and Kaveh Javanmard, arrested in May and sentenced to two years in prison, are presently held in prison, Kurdpoor said.

In the absence of a free press, news from the Kurdish-populated areas and reports of the sentences passed on the two journalists have only been carried on Kurdish and opposition news sites.

The Iranian press is very strictly censored. Many media organizations resort to self-censorship to avoid being banned by the government. The Iranian Labour News Agency, the only major news agency not under government control, which consistently reported on human rights related issues, was recently banned.

(All parties named in the article are illegal and banned in Iran.)

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