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Iran to try leading Ahwazi Arab journalist

Ahwazi Arab journalist Yusef Azizi Bani-Torof will be put on trial for "threatening national security" on Monday (27 August) on charges relating to his reports on the indigenous Ahwazi Arab uprising more than two years ago.

Bani Torof is a celebrated writer and journalist who has written 24 books in Farsi and Arabic as well as his media work. He currently writes a column for the Arabic news portal Elaph, which is based in London. The British Ahwazi Friendship Society believes he could face a long period of imprisonment amid a growing clamp-down on Ahwazi Arab journalists, intellectuals, doctors, lawyers and other professionals.

The Ahwaz journalist's lawyer, Abdulfatah Soltani, told the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) that he was being denied access to his client's files. Although Bani Torof has been accused of threatening national security, he has in the past stated that despite the Ahwazi Arabs' cultural distinctiveness and periods of autonomy in the past, they are "inseparable parts of the Iranian nation." However, extremists associated with President Ahmadinejad have insisted he is a separatist with links to foreign intelligence services.

Bani Torof was arrested days after the uprising of April 2005 and spent 65 days in prison in Ahwaz City and one day in Section 209, a prison infamous for torturing inmates to death. He was released on 27 June 2005, with a 200 million rial bail, equivalent to 22,000 US dollars. In August 2006, he was arrested after giving a lecture at a journalists' conference and his bail was raised to one billion rials or nearly 90,000 US dollars. The authorities allege that he talked against the regime, a charge he denies.

Bani Torof's struggle has won him admiration throughout Iran and in the Arab world. Recently, a number of Iranian academics and students voiced their support for his nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Recently, Bani Torof's son Afnan was arrested in Syria after he was registered as a refugee with the UNHCR in Damascus. Afnan, along with a number of other Ahwazi refugees, was released following a campaign by BAFS and other advocacy groups.