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Iranian Crackdown on Journalists Makes Tehran Biggest Press Offender

The Paris-based organization Reporters Without Borders says Iran has earned the dubious distinction of being the number-one assailant of press freedoms in the world, after several sentences were handed down. The rights group says Tehran has at least 42 journalists behind bars.

Paris-based press-watchdog Reporters Without Borders blasted Iran as the "biggest prison in the world for journalists." Following recent arrests, dozens of Iranian journalists are now being detained without trial, in addition to others already serving stiff sentences.

Monday, 36 hardline members of Iran's parliament aligned with President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and sponsored a bill to have all imprisoned opposition activists who oppose the government declared "enemies of God."

"Enemies of God," or mohareb, are to be executed within five days of their arrest, with a maximum five-day period to appeal the sentence, instead of the usual 25.

Reza Moini of Reporters Without Borders says Iran is now the worst press offender in the world, with the largest number of jailed journalists:

He says Iran has 42 journalists and bloggers in prison, in addition to many others that cannot be counted, since they were arrested in secret. Moini says this makes Iran the biggest prison in the world for journalists. The last two journalists to be condemned, he notes, Ahmed Zeydabadi and Bahman Ahmadi-Amoui were given five and seven-year sentences, while the latter is also to be flogged.

Moini says journalists across the world should be concerned about the "alarming new law being discussed in parliament" which will allow the "swift execution of these prisoners."

Well-known Iranian journalist Mashallah Shams al Waezin, who was the former head of the Iranian journalist's union was also arrested, without charges, two weeks ago after daring to criticize government violence against opposition demonstrators.

Shams al Waezin was a frequent critic of President Ahmedinejad for his closing of reformist-led newspapers and magazines since taking office in 2005:

Many Iranian newspapers, he complains, have been shut down during the Ahmedinejad presidency. He says as well as closing 25 papers and magazines, there has been a great deal of obstruction to the free flow of information inside Iran via various media.

Key opposition newspapers were closed by the government during the weeks of unrest following Iran's disputed June 12 presidential election, and several had their offices ransacked. Dozens of opposition websites also came under cyber-attack and were forced to curtail operations or use foreign computer servers to remain online.