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Iran Tightens The Screws

The Iranian government continues its assault on its own people and their fundamental rights.

The Iranian government continues its assault on its own people and their fundamental rights.

U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in a statement that the U.S. "notes with great concern" reports that an Iranian appeals court recently upheld the death sentence of a university student who took part in an anti-government rally in December.

The student, Mohammad Amin Valian, was arrested for throwing stones at security forces. For this minor act, he was found guilty of "warring against God," a crime punishable by death in Iran. Mr. Crowley called the "disproportionate punishment deplorable," and urged the Iranian government to release Mr. Valian and all political prisoners.

Since protests broke out in June after Iran's disputed presidential election, eleven people have been sentenced to death after grossly unfair trials. Arash Rahmanipour and Mohammad Reza Ali Zamani, who were also charged with "warring against God," were hanged in January.

Earlier this month, the Iranian government arrested a prominent Iranian film maker and opposition supporter, Jafar Panahi. Security forces raided his home and arrested his wife, daughter and more than a dozen dinner guests. His family and guests have been released, but Mr. Panahi remains in custody.

On March 1, in a further attempt to silence dissent, the government closed another leading newspaper and magazine critical of the regime. The closing of Etemad and Irandokht means that the vast majority of reformist publications in Iran have now been shuttered.

Meanwhile dozens of journalists who were arrested in the post-election crackdown are still in prison. There are also reports that more than five more human rights activists have been detained in recent days.

State Department spokesman Crowley said the past nine months in Iran have laid bare "a fundamental split" between the Iranian regime and its people.

"They seek a different kind of relationship. They seek the ability to influence their leaders. They also seek the fundamental freedoms of expression and association that we think apply universally around the world."

The United States, said Mr. Crowley, will "continue to look for ways to support the Iranian people in their efforts."