Iranian authorities have sent a celebrated journalist Ahmad Zeidabadi into internal exile after nearly six years in prison, dashing the hopes of his family and displaying continued intolerance for freedom of speech in the Islamic republic.
Zeidabadi, widely respected and seen as upholding the honor of Iran's journalists and intellectuals, was arrested in the 2009 state crackdown that followed the disputed reelection of Mahmud Ahmadinejad as president in June of that year.
Zeidabadi and scores of other intellectuals and political activists were tried on charges that included plotting to overthrow the Islamic establishment.
Zeidabadi, a former student leader, was sentenced to six years in prison, five years in exile in the northeastern city of Gonabad, and a lifetime ban from journalistic, political, and social activity.
After completing his prison term last week, the 49-year-old father of three was banished to the northeastern city of Gonabad -- and reportedly had to personally cover the cost of his transfer there.
Zeidabadi's family and supporters had hoped that the exile sentence would not be enforced. But ahead of his release, authorities had reportedly told his wife, Mahdieh Mohammadi, that he would be sent directly to Gonabad.
The Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemned the move as a continuation of the persecution of Zeidabadi by Iranian authorities.
"The Islamic Republic of Iran is one of the world's most oppressive countries," the head of RSF's Iran desk, Reza Moini, said in a May 22 statement. "It does not limit itself to arbitrary arrests and sentences, but also imposes 'complementary sentences' on its citizens with the aim of silencing them forever.”
Zeidabadi won the 2010 Golden Pen award from the World Association of Newspapers and the 2011 UNESCO Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize for his commitment to freedom of expression and democracy and for showing courage in the face of persecution.
Media reports said Zeidabadi was tortured in prison and held in solitary confinement for several weeks.
It is widely believed that Zeidabadi's criticism of Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and of the supreme leader's lack of accountability, is among the main reasons for his arrest and the pressure against him.
Zeidabadi's association with opposition figure and defeated presidential candidate Mehdi Karrubi is also believed to have angered Iranian authorities.
Karrubi, an outspoken critic of the Iranian establishment, has been under house arrest since February 2011.
-- Golnaz Esfandiari