CPJ concerned about treatment of Iranian prisoners

June 9, 2010 

Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani 
Office of he Head of the Judiciary 
Pasteur Street, Vali Asr Avenue 
Serah-e Jomhouri 
Tehran, Iran 
Via e-mail: [email protected]

Dear Mr. Larijani,

The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned about the Iranian authorities’ cruel treatment of imprisoned journalists and numerous punitive actions taken against them. At least 37 journalists were behind bars in Iran as of June 1, with an additional 19 free on short-term furloughs, according to CPJ’s monthly census of imprisoned journalists.

More on this issue
CPJ survey:
37 journalists jailed

Video Report:
Imprisoned in Iran

Guards at Evin Prison severely beat blogger and documentary filmmaker Mohammad Nourizad on May 18. When Nourizad exited his cell for his regularly scheduled “fresh air break,” five guards viciously beat him, the reformist news Web site Kalame reported on May 20. Nourizad suffered a severe blow to the head, which the prison physician has classified as a serious head injury that has affected his eyesight, according to the same news report. After the beating, Nourizad was transferred to a new cell that does have a window, air circulation, or a toilet. Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Courts sentenced him to three and a half years in prison and 50 lashes on charges that included “propagation against the regime” and “insulting the Supreme Leader, the president, and the head of the judiciary,” the reformist news Web site Kalame reported on April 28. His sentence was upheld on May 31 on appeal.

In an interview on May 20 with the reformist news Web site Jonbesh-e Rah-e Sabz, Nourizad’s wife, Fatemeh Maleki, expressed her concern about her husband’s physical and psychological condition after she visited him in prison. Maleki said that he refused to eat or drink for two days to protest his violent treatment.

The attack on Nourizad is only the latest in a string of punitive actions directed at imprisoned journalists and writers who have criticized the conditions of their captivity and the lack of due process in their legal proceedings. Journalists Ahmad Zaid-Abadi, Massoud Bastani, and Issa Saharkhiz have all been transferred to Rajaee Shahr Prison, which makes it more difficult for family and lawyers to visit them. The journalists are being held with violent inmates in general population, according to a May 15 article by the Reporters and Human Rights Activists News Agency.

Zaid-Abadi’s wife, Mahdieh Mohammadi, discussed her concern for her husband’s well-being in a report by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. She recounted deficient hygienic standards in the prison, including water that is too muddy to drink. She added that her visits “are very difficult. I can only go to see him every other week and counting the commute time, it takes about five hours each time…our children can only go to visit their father once every three or four months.” On November 23, 2009, Zaid-Abadi was sentenced to six years in prison, five years’ exile to Gonabad in Khorasan Province, and a “lifetime deprivation of any political activity” including “interviews, speech, and analysis of events, whether in written or oral form,” according to Deutsche Welle’s Persian Web site. An appeals court upheld the sentence on January 2, 2010, Advar News reported

Meanwhile, the judiciary continues to dole out harsh prison sentences to critical journalists. Mohammad Davari was sentenced to five years in prison on charges of “mutiny against the regime” earlier this week, according to a May 16 article by the Human Rights Activists News Agency. He was convicted in spite of allegations that he has been under immense physical and psychological pressure to “confess” to crimes he insists he did not commit.

In the weeks after the election, Davari had videotaped the testimony of inmates at Kahrizak Detention Center who alleged they had been raped and abused while in custody, according to the Free Iranian Journalists blog. (The detention center was closed in July 2009 after evidence emerged of pervasive abuse of detainees.)

In April, a group of political prisoners, including numerous journalists, in Ward 350 of Evin prison wrote an open letter to the political leadership, citing a lack of due process, violations of the law during interrogation, restrictions on choosing lawyers, and torture and coercion to “confess” to crimes they did not commit. After the letter was published online, conditions worsened for those prisoners. They have been deprived of visitation privileges, transferred to solitary confinement, and subjected to various other arbitrary measures, according to Jonbesh-e Rah-e Sabz. A few were transferred to other prisons.

We call on the Iranian judiciary to put an end to the brutal attacks against journalists in prison.  As an organization that defends the rights of our colleagues, we’re gravely concerned by the injustices they have suffered. At the same time, we believe that this pattern of mistreatment does grave damage to Iran’s legal system, which you head. We believe that all imprisoned journalists should be released without delay. At a minimum, they are entitled to be treated with dignity and given due process while in your custody.

Thank you for your attention to these urgent matters. We await your reply.


Joel Simon

Executive Director