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IRAN: Crackdown on bloggers targets hardline cleric's son

October 18, 2010 |  6:53 am

Picture 2 When an Iranian court sentenced "blogfather" Hossein Derakhshan to nearly 20 years in jail, many observers assumed the punishment was exceptional and intended to make an example of the former democracy activist.

If so, it appears the government is looking to make a few more examples.

Mehdi Khazali, an opthamologist, blogger and the son of a well-known hardline cleric, was arrested in Iran on Oct. 13, local press reported. Khazali had been especially vocal in his criticism of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad since the disputed 2009 presidential election and already had spent several short stints in jail.

Khazali's arrest came just a few weeks after blogger Hossein Ronaghi Maleki was sentenced to 15 years in prison for insulting Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the president and creating and using proxy software to circumvent government filters. Maleki's mother and lawyer have told the press he was beaten and forced to sign a confession.

The advocacy group Reporters Without Borders has pronounced a trend in harsher punishments for bloggers and netizens, especially those who encourage public debate.

"Like journalists, bloggers have been treated for months as if they are enemies of the regime," Reporters Without Borders said in a statement condemning the crackdown.

"But the authorities have now started to impose much harsher sentences on them," it continued. "Bloggers involved in censorship circumvention are being particularly targeted as they help their fellow citizens to gain access to banned information."

This isn't the first time Khazali, who has the website DrKhazali.com, has been in hot water with authorities. When he was arrested and held for a month in June 2009, he was able to gain freedom by posting bail, which reportedly ran into the tens of thousands of dollars.

Whether he'll be able to buy his way out again remains to be seen. He no longer enjoys the support of his powerful cleric father, Ayatollah Abolghassem Khazali, who publicly distanced himself from his son in a statement released after the elections, according to Radio Free Europe.

In addition to using his website to accuse Ahmadinejad of lying about his military service and organize online debates with opposition leaders, Khazali is known for giving interviews to Western press outlets such as the U.S.-funded Voice of America, which has been accused by Iranian authorities of acting as an American government mouthpiece.

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut

Image: A screen shot from Mehdi Khazali's website shows the opthamologist and blogger, who was recently arrested. Credit: DrKhazali.com

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