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Iran: Released Student Activist Thinks Blog Riled 'Sensitivities'

Kianush Sanjari (right) in undated photo with Manuchehr Mohammadi (left), brother of the late political prisoner Akbar Mohammadi (Courtesy Photo) January 11, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The charges against Kianush Sanjari remain unclear, but he suspects that stories posted on his personal weblog might have riled "sensitivities" among authorities.

A student activist and devoted blogger, Sanjari was released on December 27 after posting the equivalent of more than $100,000 in bail (100 million tumans). He had spent about three months in Evin prison.

Sanjari was arrested in October during clashes in the capital between police and supporters of the Ayatollah Kazemeyni Boroujerdi, who advocates a separation of religion from politics.

Sanjari says he does not want to comment on the circumstances of his arrest.

"Because of the limitations I'm facing, and also because I'm not [completely] free, I'm afraid I cannot describe everything that happened during my arrest and custody in [section] 209 of the security detention center (Evin prison)," Sanjari says. "But I can say that -- apart from my activities in defense of the rights of political prisoners, many of whom are my friends -- I am also a blogger; and on [October 7], I went to a protest to cover it for my blog."

Sanjari and dozens of others -- including the ayatollah at the heart of that protest -- were arrested that day. Many have been released, but Ayatollah Boroujerdi reportedly remains in prison.

"A man, whom I could not see because I had been blindfold, slapped me eight or nine times and told me that I would be among those who would be executed."

Sanjari says he was beaten by special police forces before being transferred to Section 209 of Evin prison, which is Iran's most notorious detention center for critics and activists.

Sanjari recalls his first interrogation in Section 209.

"A man, whom I could not see because I had been blindfold, slapped me eight or nine times and told me that I would be among those who would be executed," he says. "Of course, he said that to apply physical and psychological pressure."

'White Torture'

Sanjari is no stranger to the methods that Iranian prisons employ to force confessions. He has been arrested several times. The first time he was jailed, he was just 17 years old.

Rights groups say Iran's political prisoners are often held in solitary confinement for long periods, with no contact with the outside world. The method is frequently described in Iran as "white torture."

Sanjari has been subjected to "white torture" several times in the past -- including this latest detention, when he spent a month and a half in solitary confinement.

He calls it one of the worst forms of torture.

"I feel that solitary confinement -- which wages war on the soul and mind of a person -- can be the most inhuman form of white torture for people like me, who are arrested solely for [defending] citizens' rights. I only hope the day comes when no one is put in solitary confinement [to punish them] for the peaceful expression of his ideas."

Charges A Mystery

The charges against Sanjari are unclear. Amnesty International suggests he might have been accused of "acting against state security" and "propaganda against the system." Those are common charges in dissidents' cases.

Sanjari says his blog might have upset authorities.

"From the questions and inquisitiveness, I could understand that stories I had posted on my blog and were used by news websites had caused sensitivity," Sanjari says.

Before his arrest, Sanjari had posted stories on his blog dealing with the plights of political prisoners. He also covered a commemoration ceremony held for activist Akbar Mohammadi, who died at Evin prison following a hunger strike, and a police raid on the office of Iran's largest reformist student group.

No date has been announced for a trial for Sanjari. In the meantime, he can only speculate as to the charges that he is likely to face.

U.S. Report On Global Human Rights

U.S. Report On Global Human Rights

Police in Moscow arrest human rights demonstrators on February 1 (courtesy photo)

THE RECORD ON RIGHTS: On March 8, the U.S. State Department issued its global report on human rights. According to the report, 15 years after the breakup of the Soviet Union, human rights are improving in many post-communist countries. But problems persist in others, it says, despite the worldwide explosion of information and Western efforts to spread democracy. (more)

For more detailed information, see:

Azerbaijan Cited For Political Harassment, Police Brutality
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U.S. Says China, Iran 'Most Systematic' Rights Violators
Human Rights Not A Priority In Central Asia, U.S. Report Says
U.S. Report Points To Serious Abuses In Iraq
Abuses In Chechnya, Centralized Power Cited In U.S Report On Russia
U.S. Says Serious Human Rights Violations Occurring In Iran


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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is the author of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.