Friday, August 26, 2016


PEN Day Of The Imprisoned Writer: Iran Journalist Says Jail Conditions A 'Crime Against Humanity'

A file photo of Isa Saharkhiz (center) with Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi
A file photo of Isa Saharkhiz (center) with Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi

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PEN Day Of The Imprisoned Writer: Jailed Voices That Must Not Be Silenced

There are hundreds of writers and journalists in prison right now, most of them sentenced to long terms in brutal conditions merely for the ideas they express in their writing. PEN International, a nongovernmental organization based in London with centers around the world, has named November 15 the Day of the Imprisoned Writer in order to keep these unjustly imprisoned voices from falling silent.
By Robert Coalson
During the night of August 28, 2012 -- the day before UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was to arrive in Tehran for a summit of the Nonaligned Movement (NAM) -- ailing Iranian journalist Isa Saharkhiz was removed from a hospital and returned to the notorious Evin prison.

Saharkhiz is just one of dozens of journalists and writers being held in Iranian prisons since the crackdown on political dissent that came after the disputed 2009 reelection of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

He was sentenced to two years in prison in 2009. In August 2011, the authorities added three years to his sentence for allegedly "insulting the leader and carrying out propaganda activities against the regime."

In a further effort to silence his voice, the 59-year-old Saharkhiz has been barred from journalistic and political activity for five years after he completes his sentence.

PEN Day of the Imprisoned Writer: Jailed Voices That Must Not Be Silenced

In 2011, Saharkhiz wrote an open letter to the UN human rights rapporteur for Iran, Ahmad Shaheed, urging him to inspect Iran's jails. "What is going on in Iranian prisons is a crime against humanity and is just as bad as Stalin's inhumane forced labor camps in Siberia."

As if to underscore Saharkhiz's words, prominent Iranian blogger Sattar Beheshti died while in police custody earlier this month, with fellow prisoners charging that the 35-year-old had been beaten and hung by his limbs during interrogation. Iranian officials have said he died of "cardiac arrest" and "natural causes."
  • A view from the outside (Fars) - Evin prison is thought to hold hundreds of political prisoners as well as regular inmates.
  • Policing the women's section (epa) - In June 2006 authorities gave foreign journalists a rare chance to see parts of the prison.
  • An inmate at work (epa) - Reporters were able to talk to inmates in the women's section, but some of the journalists complained that officials listened in to their conversations.
  • The cells shown to journalists were clean and tidy (epa) - Officials said the visit was meant to dispel what they called an unfair impression of the prison abroad. But rights groups say they have documented cases of torture and abuse of detainees jailed in Evin for political reasons.
  • A deadly assignment (AFP) - Zahra Kazemi, an Iranian-Canadian journalist, died in custody in Evin in 2003 after being detained for taking photographs outside the jail. Authorities initially said she had died in an accidental fall; a doctor who later fled to Canada said she had been beaten and raped.
  • Prison sketches (courtesy photo) - Iraj Mesdaghi, a political prisoner in Iran for 10 years in the 1980s and 1990s, published plans of Evin in his memoirs.
  • Esfandiari after her release (AFP) - One of Evin's most high-profile inmates was Haleh Esfandiari, the Iranian-American scholar held there for three months on security charges until her release in August 2007.
  • A hunger-striking Akbar Ganji - An earlier high-profile prisoner was journalist Akbar Ganji. He spent six years in Evin after writing articles linking senior officials to the murders of opposition figures. In 2005, Ganji went on a hunger strike that his wife said nearly killed him.
  • Free at last (Fars) - "Jail and pressures never forced me to change my views," Ganji said after his release in March, 2006. "Today, I'm more determined to say what I said six years ago."

Saharkhiz, speaking to RFE/RL's Radio Farda during the 2009 protests, urged U.S. President Barack Obama to lift economic sanctions against his country, arguing that closer ties with the outside world would prompt Iranians to make more strident demands for human rights and democratic reform.

"He [Obama] should let Iran and Iranians deal with their issues through their development and well being and a better life," Saharkhiz said. "Such people -- who won't have to worry about day to day life issues -- will then more effectively focus on democracy and human rights issues."

After Saharkhiz was initially arrested in 2009, his son, Mehdi Saharkhiz, commented on events being held around the world in support of his father, who at the time was recovering from broken ribs and had had no access to lawyers.

"These events help people inside and outside Iran, citizens of other countries, become aware of what is happening, and it also helps us get more news and give more coverage," Saharkhiz said. "This creates hope for the people of Iran. They see that Iranians outside the country are also with them. I think it has a very positive effect. I’ve received e-mails from several groups inside Iran who have said that they have launched hunger strikes to coincide with the hunger strike here. It shows that they all know about this and are supporting it."
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