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Iran jails journalist on security charge - friend

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran jailed a prominent pro-reform journalist and rights activist, Emadeddin Baghi, on Sunday for acting against national security, a close friend said.

Baghi, the founder of the Society for Defending Prisoners’ Rights, was sent to Tehran’s Evin prison, where many other dissidents are held, Issa Saharkhiz told Reuters.

“Today Baghi was sent to prison from the court for a one-year term of a previously suspended jail sentence,” Saharkhiz said, adding that he was being detained for acting against “national security” and publishing classified documents.

Iranian news agencies also quoted Baghi’s lawyer confirming that he had been jailed for violating national security.

A Tehran court found Baghi guilty four years ago of writing critical articles and making speeches about the judiciary’s poor treatment of prisoners and cases of defendants being given inadequate access to lawyers, Saharkhiz said.

Rights groups and diplomats say there is a broad crackdown on dissenting voices in the Islamic state, which is under growing Western pressure over its disputed nuclear programme. The authorities deny such moves, saying they allow free speech.

Baghi was previously jailed for insulting Islamic sanctities. He was released after three years in 2002.

Judicial officials were not available to comment on Baghi’s arrest.

Baghi’s best-selling books about so-called chain killing of intellectuals, during which four activists were murdered by “rogue” Intelligent Ministry agents, have also been banned in the Islamic state.

Rights groups often complain that Tehran imprisons pro-reform writers, journalists and intellectuals without due legal process. Iran denies holding political prisoners and routinely dismisses charges of rights abuses.

Reformist politicians said Baghi’s arrest was an attempt to intimidate pro-reform activists in Iran ahead of the 2008 parliamentary elections in March.

“The government wants to silence its critics. They will jail more pro-reform activists,” said a former government official, who asked not to be named.

Two prominent pro-reform newspapers, Ham Mihan and Sharq, both critical of the government, have been shut down in the past months.

Since 2000, the Press Supervisory Board and judiciary have closed more than 100 publications, accusing many of being “pawns of the West”. Many subsequently reopened under different names. A handful of opposition newspapers still publish.