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Monday, 10 September, 2001, 15:26 GMT 16:26 UK
Iran journalist loses prison appeal
Massoud Behnoud
Mr Behnoud (second from right) in court
By the BBC's Jim Muir in Tehran

A prominent Iranian journalist and frequent contributor to the BBC's Persian language service has had a prison sentence of 19 months upheld by an appeals court in Tehran.

Massoud Behnoud was arrested in August of last year and sentence was passed in February after he was found guilty of spreading lies and insulting the Islamic system and its leaders.

Mr Behnoud - one of Iran's most distinguished journalists -was held for five months after his arrest before being released on bail.

Since his sentence was passed, he has been at liberty while his appeal was considered.

But now the Tehran appeals court has endorsed the original sentence of 19 months in jail and a fine amounting to nearly $2,500.

The court also said he should begin serving his sentence now.

Long sentences

Mr Behnoud is the latest in a long series of journalists and other liberal figures who have been given long prison sentences for airing their views.

Hardliners demonstrate in Iran
Hard-liners fiercely oppose Iran's reformist press
Dozens of newspapers in which they did so have also been closed down on the orders of the judiciary, which is widely regarded here as a bastion of right-wing conservative power.

Recent court decisions upheld even longer sentences on two translators involved in a controversial conference in Berlin last year.

Khalil Rostamkhani had been given nine years in jail, and Saeed Sadr 10 years.

The judiciary has also been behind a spate of recent public punishments, floggings and hangings which have been seen as reinforcing the hard line and countering a creeping social liberalization.

The public punishments, especially the floggings, have caused bitter controversy in both political and religious circles with reformists arguing that they were causing great damage both at home and abroad.

It has been announced that such punishments are now to be carried out only by the police rather than Islamic volunteers.

That and other developments indicate that the sudden spate of floggings in recent weeks may die away, at least in the capital.

See also:

29 Nov 00 | Middle East
Iranian reformist trials to reopen
28 Nov 00 | Middle East
Iran bans popular youth title
09 Nov 00 | Middle East
Uproar as Iran judge accused
19 Jul 00 | Middle East
Iran timeline
30 Nov 00 | Middle East
Iranian journalist names names
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