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Iran: Rights Group 'Revolted' At Treatment Of Ailing Journalist

Reporters Without Borders is expressing outrage over the treatment of ailing 75-year-old journalist Siamak Pourzand, who has been imprisoned in Iran since 2001. Pourzand, who is now in a Tehran hospital after suffering a heart attack, has reportedly been chained to his bed by authorities.

Prague, 20 April 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Iran's Siamak Pourzand, a well-known journalist and film critic, has been through some difficult times during the last three years.

In November 2001, Pourzand disappeared. Only later did relatives and friends discover that he had been arrested by Iranian police. He was held for months in solitary confinement with no access to either his family or to his lawyer.

In May 2002, Pourzand was charged with antistate activities and "links to monarchists and counterrevolutionaries" and sentenced to 11 years in prison. His trial was described by Human Rights Watch as a "mockery of justice."

Iran's state news agency reported that Pourzand had confessed to his crimes, but his family and human-rights groups say the confession was extracted using psychological pressure and torture.

Pourzand was granted prison leave in December 2002 but was re-arrested on 30 March 2003. Amnesty International and the media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) say he was held in solitary confinement in appalling conditions with no access to his own lawyer.

Now, Pourzand is in hospital in Tehran, after suffering a heart attack in late March and lapsing into a coma for a few days. His eldest daughter, Banafsheh Pourzand, who lives in the United States, told RFE/RL that her father's condition is critical.

"After several strokes over the last few months, he finally had a massive coronary, and he was finally taken -- at the behest of the infirmary in prison and various doctors who have begged the judiciary system to have him treated in a more sophisticated medical facility -- he was taken to a public hospital entitled Modares, and there he has been chained to his bed with two [guards] around him," she said.

Pourzand's wife, Mehrangiz Kar, is a prominent human-rights activist who also lives in the United States. She says she and Pourzand's children have had no direct contact with him since his re-arrest one year ago. His sister in Tehran is the only family member who had been able to meet him since his incarceration.

At that meeting, Reporters Without Borders says Pourzand was unable to walk, barely able to speak, and told his sister not to sign anything in connection with him.

Pourzand's daughter says Tehran's chief prosecutor, Said Mortazavi, told her father that he will not be released in the near future. "Mortazavi specifically told him two weeks ago that he wasn't going to let my father go because he's afraid that if he lets my father go that my father would basically divulge to the world the atrocities that are committed every day in the prisons of the Islamic Republic and the human-rights violations."

Pourzand's case has been noted by various international human rights groups, who have called for his release.

In a statement today, Reporters Without Borders said it was "revolted" by Pourzand's treatment and called for his release. RSF said it will hold the Iranian authorities responsible for the deterioration in Pourzand's health.

Agnes Devictor, of RSF's Iran desk, says Pourzand's case highlights the way journalists are treated in the Islamic Republic.

"Unfortunately, we already had one case -- Zahra Kazemi's case," she said. "She died in detention last year, and I think the Iranian authorities still do not understand that they have to change their way of dealing with journalists in jail."

Kazemi, an Iranian-Canadian photographer, was arrested last year in front of Tehran's Evin prison while taking pictures of the families of political prisoners. She later died in a hospital because of a blow she received to her head during her detention.

Many observers say Pourzand, who also ran a cultural center in Tehran, was arrested in an effort to intimidate intellectuals and prevent them from expressing critical views of the Iranian establishment.

Following Pourzand's arrest, several writers and journalists in Iran were questioned about a variety of issues.

Banafsheh Pourzand says, "My father is a cultural figure. He's never been a political activist, so to speak. He's just being used as a tool because these people feel the need to [silence] every single cultural figure and intellectual and free thinker of any age and background. It's the assassination of a character, breaking down the spirit."