Iran is the Middle East’s biggest imprisoner of journalists. According to Reporters sans frontières (RSF), more than fifty journalists were jailed in 2007 alone, and at the time of writing, eight remain detained. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Guide, are on the watchdog’s list of ‘Predators of Press Freedom’. Midway through 2008, the government’s repression of journalists in Iran shows no signs of abating.
In LR December 2007 I wrote about the journalist and human rights defender Emadeddin Baqi, who was charged with ‘endangering national security’. Later the same month, he suffered a heart attack and was briefly hospitalised. Earlier this year, Baqi was named as International Journalist of the Year at the British Press Awards. Recently, human rights groups have stepped up calls for his release on humanitarian grounds after the journalist reportedly suffered another heart attack on 7 May in Tehran’s Evin prison. He received medical attention but was returned to his cell the same night.
On 25 May 2008 the trial of another journalist began, despite reports that he had recently suffered either a heart attack or a stroke during detention and was denied adequate medical care. Iranian-Kurdish journalist Mohammad Sadiq Kabudvand has been held since 1 July 2007 on charges of ‘acting against national security’.
Kabudvand is the chair of the Human Rights Organisation of Kurdistan (RMMK), based in Tehran, and formerly the editor of Payam-e Mardom-e Kurdestan (Kurdistan People’s Message). This was a weekly paper published in Kurdish and Persian that was banned by the authorities in 2004 after being accused of ‘disseminating separatist ideas and publishing false reports’. He is also reportedly the author of two books on democracy and a third on the women’s movement in Iran, which were not given publishing licences. The writers’ organisation PEN and other campaign groups have taken up Kabudvand’s case and are lobbying for his release.
He was arrested on 1 July 2007 at his place of work by plain-clothed security officers, and taken to his house in Tehran, where security officers confiscated three computers, books, photographs and personal documents. He was then taken to the Intelligence Ministry, and held in the notorious Section 209 of Evin prison, where he is said to have been ill-treated.
No reason has been given for Kabudvand’s arrest, although campaign groups believe that it is linked to a previous one-year prison sentence which he has never served. Amnesty International reports that on 18 August 2005 a revolutionary court in western Iran sentenced him to a suspended prison sentence of eighteen months, and a five-year ban on working as a journalist. His conviction was reportedly upheld on appeal, but the suspended prison sentence was increased to one year’s actual imprisonment. Kabudvand was convicted of ‘disseminating tribal issues and publishing provocative articles’ and ‘spreading lies with the intention of upsetting public opinion’. In September 2006 he was summoned to begin his prison sentence, but remained free pending an appeal to the Supreme Court.
A general crackdown against media and human rights activists in Iranian Kurdistan has been ongoing since July 2005, when riots broke out in the Kurdish areas of Iran. The unrest, lasting over a month, was provoked by the death of a Kurdish opposition activist, Showan Qaderi, who was shot dead by Iranian security forces in Mahabad. His body was then reportedly tied to the back of a jeep and dragged through the city streets.
Kabudvand’s trial has been postponed three times since his rearrest in July 2007 and RSF claims that he has been subjected to a great deal of harassment in prison in an attempt to get him to close his human rights organisation and to disown its press releases about human rights violations. He was held in isolation for the first five months after his arrest. Human rights groups have criticised the delays, all of which add to the psychological pressure on him. Following his seizure, Amnesty International issued a stark update: ‘He was unconscious for about 30 minutes and was given first aid by another prisoner who is a doctor. His fellow prisoners called for help and asked guards to take him to the prison clinic, but he was left in his cell.’
His family has not been able to raise the funds for the exorbitantly high bail, set at 150 million tomans (145,000 euros), and despite his poor health, Kabudvand has remained in prison pending trial. He is believed to have had no contact with his family since his arrest.
One piece of good news from Iran involves another Iranian-Kurdish journalist. Adnan Hassanpour regularly wrote on Kurdish issues and in July 2007, after a closed trial, the journalist and his colleague, environmentalist Abdolwahed Butimar, both received the death penalty. They were reportedly charged with ‘activities subverting national security’, ‘separatist propaganda’ and ‘spying.’ In December 2007 the Supreme Court upheld the death sentence of Hassanpour but overturned Butimar’s verdict. At the end of January 2008, RSF reports, they cancelled the sentence against Hassanpour. A likely reason for the overturning of the sentences is that this was a direct result of international pressure.
Readers may like to send appeals expressing serious concerns for the health of journalists Emadeddin Baqi and Mohammad Sadiq Kabudvand, and about reports that they are being denied access to necessary medical care; calling for their immediate and unconditional release on humanitarian grounds and in accordance with Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a signatory, to:
His Excellency Mr Rasoul Movahedian
Head of Mission
Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran
16 Prince’s Gate
London SW7 1PT
Fax: (020) 7589 4440
Email/fax copies to: His Excellency Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Fax: Via Foreign Ministry 00 98 21 6 674 790
(mark: ‘Please forward to H E President Ahmadinejad’)