TEHRAN (AFP) — Iran arrested on Sunday a prominent rights activist who has campaigned against the death penalty on charges of spreading propaganda and publishing secret documents, his lawyer said.
Emaddedin Baghi, who heads the Committee for the Defence of Prisoners' Rights, has already served several jail terms in Iran and received awards from Western countries for his work.
"He is charged with spreading propaganda against the regime and publishing secret government documents," his lawyer Saleh Nikbakht told AFP.
According to the charges, Baghi obtained secret information from prisoners detained in security prisons and then disseminated this information during seminars organised by his group, the lawyer said.
Baghi is a former journalist who served a three-year jail term between 2000-2003 over his writings in several pro-reform newspapers.
Over the last months, he has publicly protested against the wave of hangings, many in public, that have swept Iran as part of a campaign by the authorities they say is aimed at improving security in society.
In September he wrote an open letter to the heads of reformist parties -- including former president Mohammad Khatami and ex-parliament speaker Mehdi Karroubi -- complaining of their silence over the increased hangings.
At least 207 executions have been carried out in the country so far this year, already well above the figures for 2006.
In 2005 Baghi was awarded a prize for human rights by France for his work campaigning against the death penalty.
He has been particularly prominent in cases in the western Khuzestan province, which has a substantial Arab population and has seen a spate of executions following deadly bomb attacks in 2005 and 2006.
Capital offences in Iran include murder, rape, armed robbery, serious drug trafficking and adultery. The Islamic republic is believed to be currently second only to China in the number of executions carried out annually.
Nikbakht said a bail of 500 million rials (53,500 dollars) had been set but it was then decided to imprison Baghi as he still had a one year jail term to serve from a previous conviction.
The lawyer also confirmed reports from Western rights groups that Baghi had been sentenced to three years in prison earlier this year over his activities. However he has yet to serve this sentence, which remains the subject of an appeal.
"He has appealed and now the case is in the hands of the court," he said.
The lawyer said that in the same case his wife Fatemeh Kamali Ahmad Sarahi and his daughter Maryam Baghi were also each handed three year suspended sentences.
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