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Crackdown on Kurdish press following clashes in Kurdistan

Reporters Without Borders today condemned a wave of harassment of Kurdish journalists by local authorities in Iranian Kurdistan, which has been hit by clashes in recent weeks, and the closure of the daily Achti and the weekly Asou at the behest of the ministry of culture and Islamic guidance.

"We condemn this crackdown on the Kurdish press because Iranian Kurdistan has more need than ever of its journalists in these times of great tension," the press freedom organisation said. "We call on the authorities to stop the harassment of Kurdish journalists and to lift the suspension of Achti and Asou."

Asou, which is published in both Kurdish and Farsi, was closed by judicial officials in Sanandaj (the capital of Kurdistan) on 3 August, probably because of its editorial line and its coverage of the events shaking the region.

The closure of Achti followed, probably for the same reasons. Published in Tehran in Kurdish, it had recently received permission to change from a weekly to a daily. The source of the orders for the closure of both newspapers was the ministry of culture and Islamic guidance.

Several journalists are known to have been arrested but, given the many arrests that have taken place in the region, many more are probably being held. Roya Tolou, the editor of the newspaper Resan, was detained by police in Sanandaj on 2 August. Ejlal Ghavami, a journalist with the weekly Payam-e mardom-e Kurdestan, was also arrested the same day.

Other journalists have been summoned to appear before local authorities for reasons that are unknown but probably related to reports published in the past few weeks.

Mohammad Sadegh Kabovand, Payam-e mardom-e Kurdestan's editor, was asked to appear before a court in Sanandaj yesterday. He did appear but without his lawyer, who is none other than Abdolfattah Soltani, who was arrested on the orders of Tehran prosecutor Said Mortazavi on 30 July.

This is not the first time Kabovand has been harassed by local judicial officials. He was arrested and taken before a court in Sanandaj on 15 June 2004 for "spreading separatist ideas and publishing false reports" and the court ordered the closure of his newspaper two weeks later.

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