Reporters Without Borders is profoundly saddened by the death of journalist Siamak Pourzand, 80, a major cultural figure in Iran. Detained and under house arrest for ten years, banned from leaving the country and separated from his family, Pourzand committed suicide on 29 April in Tehran.
We hold the Iranian authorities responsible for this gesture of despair. Despite several appeals to the authorities by his family and various human rights organizations including Reporters Without Borders, not once did either President Mohammad Khatami or President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, or the heads of judicial system, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi and Sadegh Larijani, intercede on his behalf.
Pouzand’s death is a reminder that the Iranian regime is one of the most violent in the world for journalists. We address our most sincere condolences to the Pourzand family, to his daughters and his wife, the lawyer Mehranghiz Kar, and to his colleagues.
Pourzand began his career in 1952 with the newspaper Bakhtar Emroz. Prior to the 1978 revolution, he had also worked for several film magazines, including Paik Cinema and Sepid va siah, Ferdossi.
After Ayatollah Khomeini came to power, he was fired from the newspaper Kyhan. Despite harassment, he continued to work with independent newspapers before taking over the management of Tehran’s artistic and cultural centre. He worked as a cultural commentator for several reformist newspapers after the reformist Mohammed Khatami became president in 1997.
Pourzand was abducted in the street by security forces on 29 November 2001 and was held incommunicado for the first four months of his detention. He was granted neither access to a lawyer nor medical care. Held for months in solitary confinement, he was tortured in an attempt to force him into a televised confession. Accepting all the charges against him, Pourzand said he had absolutely no need to defend himself.
He was sentenced on 3 May 2002 to 11 years in prison on charges of “spying and undermining state security” and “links with monarchists and counter-revolutionaries.” A Tehran court of appeal upheld the sentence on 7 July 2002.
In a letter published in 2003, his wife wrote: “He is in solitary confinement in the basement of Evin prison. According to a diagnosis made on 30 July 2003 by the Imam Khomeini Hospital in Tehran, he is suffering from arthritis in his neck and from worrying back problems requiring an operation.”
In recent years, Pourzand had spent his time under house arrest, with frequent hospital visits and constantly under threat from information ministry interrogators. He was an eye-witness to crimes committed by the authorities in Iranian prisons. This was the reason for their refusal to allow him to leave the country.
On 8 March 2003, he telephoned his daughter in the United States to confirm that he was being put on trial again. “From now on, you can count me among the dead,” he said.
Many journalists are currently in prison or have been granted a “conditional release” on payment of a large amount of bail. Those who are in poor health are denied the treatment they need. Reporters Without Borders calls for the Special Rapporteur on Iran to be sent to the country urgently, in accordance with the resolution voted by the United Nations Human Rights Council on 24 March.