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Iran imprisons a top human rights activist

THE WORLD

Lawyers for Emadeddin Baghi, a death-penalty critic, say they were barred from the hearing.

October 15, 2007|Borzou Daragahi and Ramin Mostaghim | Special to The Times

TEHRAN — Iranian authorities imprisoned one of their nation's most prominent human rights activists Sunday after he appeared at a court appointment, said his lawyer.

Emadeddin Baghi, a writer who has campaigned vigorously against the death penalty in Iran, was taken during a hearing in Tehran's Revolutionary Court, which tries those charged with political crimes.

Baghi's relatives said the court imposed a previously suspended one-year sentence on state security charges and denied bail. His lawyers said they were barred from the courtroom.

"We were not allowed today to be present during the investigation," said Saleh Nikbakht, one of Baghi's two attorneys.

Nikbakht said Baghi had told him he'd been accused of revealing classified information. It was not immediately clear where the dissident was being held.

Authorities were angered recently by his outspoken opposition to death sentences for Iranians of Arab descent convicted in a series of bombings in the southwestern province of Khuzestan.

Baghi opposes capital punishment in all cases.

He's also being accused of insulting Iran's leaders, according to the Iranian Students News Agency.

Baghi was born to a religious family in the Iraqi shrine city of Karbala in 1962. A former Islamic seminary student, he supported Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution.

But he turned against the regime in the 1980s, writing books critical of the clerical establishment. He has written more than 20 works, most of them banned in his homeland.

He was convicted on charges of apostasy and endangering state security in 2000 and spent nearly three years in prison.

As soon as he got out, he founded a prisoners rights group that advocates abolishing the death penalty.

Several years ago, authorities handed him the one-year suspended sentence, which has been hanging over his head since.

In 2004, he was granted the $50,000 Civil Courage Prize, an international award inspired by Russian author Alexander Solzhenitsyn. However, Iranian authorities barred Baghi from leaving the country to collect the award.

His wife, activist and writer Fatemeh Kamali, tried to post bail for him Sunday, but the bid was refused by the court, Nikbakht said.

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daragahi@latimes.com

Daragahi is a Times staff writer and Mostaghim a special correspondent.

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