New York - The upcoming report by Iran's powerful judiciary about the mistreatment and torture of bloggers and internet journalists in custody must begin a process of full accountability for serious human rights abuse, Human Rights Watch said today. In January 2004, the head of the judiciary, Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi Shahrudi, ordered the formation of an internal investigating committee to probe bloggers' claims of torture and ill-treatment. At a press conference on March 29, judiciary spokesman Jamal Karimirad said that its findings have been presented to Ayatollah Shahrudi and that a final report will be made public shortly.
Human Rights Watch urged the authorities not to whitewash the role of security forces and judiciary agents.
"The decision to launch an internal investigation may be a promising first step-or it may be yet another cover-up," said Joe Stork, Washington director of Human Right Watch's Middle East and North Africa Division. "We've documented enough mistreatment of bloggers and internet journalist to know that Iran has a serious problem here. The question is whether they'll admit it-and do something about it."
Between August and November 2004, judiciary agents operating on behalf of Tehran's chief prosecutor, Saeed Mortazavi, detained more than 20 bloggers and internet journalists. After their release some of the detainees testified before a presidential commission, detailing their mistreatment while in detention. Hanif Mazroi, Massoud Ghoreishi, Fereshteh Ghazi, Arash Naderpour and Mahbobeh Abasgholizadeh appeared in front of the commission on December 25, 2004. On January 1, Omid Memarian and Ruzbeh Mir Ebrahimi also provided accounts of their ill-treatment.
Memarian and Mir Ebrahimi testified that they had been forced by their interrogators to write confession letters as a condition for their release. All former detainees who appeared in front of the presidential commission provided details of their physical and psychological torture, solitary confinement, and interrogations into their private lives.
Presidential commission member Mohammad Ali Abtahi later made the testimonies public.
"These brave young journalists took a great risk by exposing abuses committed against them," said Stork. "In particular, it took a lot of courage for Memarian and Mir Ebrahimi to reveal the truth behind their forced confession letters."
Human Rights Watch urged Ayatollah Shahrudi to guarantee the integrity of the investigation and put an immediate end to persecution of bloggers and writers by the judiciary. The Iranian authorities should initiate criminal proceedings against those who are responsible for torture and ill-treatment in custody, Human Rights Watch said.