New York, November 9, 2012--Iranian authorities must immediately explain the sudden death of imprisoned blogger Sattar Beheshti, who had previously complained about severe mistreatment in custody, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. CPJ also demands that the government launch a full investigation into the suspicious death and to immediately halt its intense harassment of the victim's family.
Police arrested Beheshti in late October on allegations that he was "acting against national security," according to news reports. Beheshti, who wrote about politics and human rights on his own blog, was highly critical of high-ranking officials. News reports differed on the exact date of his arrest, although it appeared to have occurred on or after October 28.
The reformist news websites Kaleme and Saham News first reported the blogger's death on Tuesday. Authorities told Beheshti's family to claim his body from the Kahrizak Medical Examiner's Office, Kaleme reported. Beheshti's sister told Kaleme that authorities summoned her husband, Beheshti's brother-in-law, and told him: "Buy a grave. Come to get the body tomorrow." She said her husband was told that Beheshti had been ill and was warned not to speak to the news media about the death, Kaleme reported. Beheshti had been in good health prior to his arrest, she told Kaleme.
The exact circumstances of Beheshti's death are unclear. The BBC Persian service, citing an unnamed source, said Beheshti was seen in Evin Prison on October 31 with severe bruises on his wrists. Such bruising can indicate that an individual has been hung from the ceiling by his wrists for a long period of time, a technique known to be used in Iranian prisons, according to the report. The source said Beheshti was transferred from Evin to an unknown location on November 1.
Kaleme said it had received a letter from Beheshti dated October 31 in which he said he had been subjected to "physical and verbal abuse" during his interrogations. The letter also said any confessions he may have made were untrue and extracted under torture, the website reported.
Beheshti's uncle told Saham News that the family had sought information about Beheshti's death but was rebuffed and told to keep quiet. Saham News reported that the body was buried on Thursday, but authorities prevented Beheshti's family from undertaking the Muslim cleansing ritual, during which the body is exposed and washed. Saham said family members were allowed only to see Beheshti's face for a few seconds before the body was lowered into the grave.
Family members observed a head injury and blood covering the body, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran reported, citing an unnamed source. The source told the group that security forces confiscated the family's cellphones, photographed and videotaped each family member present at the burial, and placed the family's home under surveillance.
The government has not publicly disclosed any details about the death, news reports said.
"The authorities must immediately launch a thorough and credible investigation into Sattar Beheshti's death," said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. "His family deserves the truth and should not be intimidated by authorities for demanding it."
On his blog, Magalh 91, the 35-year-old Beheshti wrote critical articles about the regime, specifically citing Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other high-ranking officials for poor policy decisions, corruption, and other abuses. He also accused Khamenei of deflecting attention from regime failures by expressing empty rhetoric about Palestinian rights. His latest posts criticized Iran's foreign policy in Lebanon and covered the hunger strike of imprisoned human rights lawyer Nasrin Soutoudeh.
In one of his last blog posts before his arrest, Beheshti said he faced constant harassment and threats from the security services. "Yesterday they threatened me, saying I should tell my mother that she would soon be wearing black clothes if I did not shut up," he wrote on his blog. "I cannot keep quiet even if it means the moment of my death is expedited."At least two other journalists have died in Iranian custody under suspicious circumstances, CPJ research shows. In 2009, CPJ documented the death of blogger Omidreza Mirsayafi in Tehran's Evin Prison from suspected torture, although prison officials claimed he committed suicide. In 2003, CPJ documented the death of Iranian-Canadian freelance photographer Zahra Kazemi who died in a Tehran hospital after being transferred from government custody in a coma.
- For more data and analysis on Iran, visit CPJ's Iran page here.