In Iranian prison, journalists’ well-being in question

New York, August 28, 2009–The Committee to Protect Journalists deplores the conditions in which dozens of Iranian journalists are being held and is concerned about the health of many of them, particularly that of Ahmad Zaid-Abadi. The columnist, who worked for Rooz Online, a Farsi and Englishlanguage reformist news Web site, was arrested in mid-June after the contested presidential election.

Mahdieh Mohammadi, Zaid-Abadi’s wife, was able to finally see her husband after 53 days in custody, according to an August 19 Deutsche Welle story. Mohammadi said Zaid-Abadi had gone on a 17-day hunger strike. She told the German broadcaster that “‘No one went to see him during these 17 days. He was all alone in a 1-by-1.5 meter room. He said he couldn’t hear a sound in there. He used the phrase ‘exactly like a tomb’ to describe it. This is the term used by many of the prisoners whose families have gone to visit them. It was a place like a grave.” 

Mohammadi added that after 17 days Zaid-Abadi was only semi-conscious and prison doctors advised him to end his hunger strike. “After he broke his hunger strike he was moved back to the same cell. … He said he went crazy. He was hallucinating and kept screaming. He said he was thinking of killing himself somehow, but couldn’t find anything with which to kill himself. He started screaming and making a lot of noise. When they saw he was going crazy, they came and took him somewhere, I don’t know where the new place is.” 
Etemad e Melli , which is owned by defeated presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi, reported on August 22 that, according to Mohammadi, Zaid-Abadi was kept in the A-2 ward of a Revolutionary Guard facility, where he was kept in isolation and was not permitted any news from the outside world. 
The Nationalist-Religious Movement of Iran, an opposition party that represents a number of smaller parties, has issued a statement, which has appeared on numerous news Web sites, expressing concern over the physical and mental health of Zaid-Abadi and other imprisoned journalists. Referring to published photographs of the journalists on trial on Tuesday, the statement refers to signs of anxiety, shock, and depression on their faces. The statement makes a moral appeal to authorities to allow Zaid-Abadi to be examined by physicians trusted by his family. 
“The treatment of imprisoned journalists by the Iranian government is appalling,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator ‎‎Mohamed Abdel Dayem. “We urge the government to immediately allow all imprisoned journalists who request independent medical treatment to receive it without condition or delay.” 
In a separate development, imprisoned Canadian-Iranian Newsweek journalist Maziar Bahari, who has been imprisoned since June 21, has been nominated for the Spanish Prince of Asturias Award for Concord. According to the Asturias Foundation’s Web site “the award will be bestowed upon the person, institution, group of people or group of institutions whose work has made an exemplary and outstanding contribution to mutual understanding and peaceful coexistence amongst men, to the struggle against injustice, poverty, disease or ignorance, to the defense of freedom, or whose work has widened the horizons of knowledge or has been outstanding in protecting and preserving Mankind’s heritage.” Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa has supported Bahari’s nomination.