Reaching out to CPJ’s award winner, imprisoned in Iran

The relentless crackdown on the press in Iran is, well, relentless. In the last few days we have received word that 11 more journalists have been arrested, including former CPJ International Press Freedom Award winner Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, at left.

There are 23 other journalists already in prison in Iran, according to the global census CPJ carried out on December 1. Scores of other journalists have been arrested and released; mores still have been intimidated, beaten and harassed.

Each one of these incidents is appalling, as is the brutality the Iran regime is inflicting on demonstrators and critics, who have been shot down in the streets in recent days.

But the arrest of Shamsolvaezin, or Shams as he is known, hits home in a very personal way. We consider him a friend. When we honored Shams in prison in 2000 he was serving a 30-month sentence for “insulting Islamic principles.” After his early release from prison in September 2001 we stayed in touch. Shams has emerged not only as a vital defender of free expression in Iran, but also an analyst for international media. In the last few months, has criticized the election process and the subsequent crackdown.

Obviously, we are deeply concerned for his welfare and will continue to speak out on his behalf. Tehran’s Evin Prison, where we assume he is being held, has become a black hole. Just about everyone held there is isolated, cut off from the world. We have heard many accounts of disturbing, even brutal, interrogations.

Does the international attention make a difference? We believe it does, and we are prepared for a long campaign. At a minimum, we hope that Shams becomes aware of the level of international concern and is bolstered by it. That’s what happened when Greek freelancer Iason Athanasiadis was in jail. He tells his story in this brief video interview with CPJ.

Without overlooking the terrible injustice perpetrated against every one of the journalists jailed in Iran, we feel a special bond with Shams and will continue to emphasize his case.

Shams, if somehow you get this message, here’s what we want you to know: Journalists around the world stand behind you, and will not rest until you are released.