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Iran: Journalist at Risk

Human Rights Watch today said it was gravely concerned about the detention of Siamak Pourzand, a 73-year-old journalist who was arrested on November 29 and whose whereabouts remain unknown.

Human Right Watch believes that the Iranian government may be seeking to fabricate criminal charges against him, perhaps with the intent to silence him and deter other open critics of the government.

“We are alarmed by a growing pattern of arrests in Iran where the authorities deny the whereabouts of those detained for weeks or even months,” said Hanny Megally, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa Division. “It is precisely during such periods of incommunicado detention that individuals are at greatest risk of being tortured or otherwise pressured into making confessions.”

Siamak Pourzand was last seen leaving his sister’s house at 9:00 pm on November 29. There was no news about him until December 14, when his family received a phone call from the Vice and Virtue Committee in Tehran asking for more clothing for their prisoner, Mr. Pourzand. His family’s efforts to find out where he was being held have been unsuccessful. An ominous development in his case occurred in early December when plainclothes security personal seriously beat Ms. Venus Farimehr, a colleague of Mr. Pourzand. She was reportedly forced to sign a statement confessing to an adulterous relationship with Mr. Pourzand, and incriminating him in other unspecified offences.

Siamak Pourzand heads a newly established Artistic and Cultural Complex which organized cultural gatherings for artists, writers and journalists. In recent years he has worked as a cultural commentator with several reformist newspapers. All of them have since been closed. Mr Pourzand has also been accused in the past by conservatives in Iran of being sympathetic to the “monarchist” cause, partly because of his association with the press during the reign of the Shah of Iran and also because his estranged first wife is currently working abroad as Chief of Staff for Reza Pahlavi, the son of the former Shah.

“Siamak Pourzand’s safety is at risk,” said Megally. “Unless he is charged with a valid criminal offense, the authorities should release him immediately,” said Megally.

Over the past eighteen months more than fifty-six reformist newspapers have been closed and scores of journalists and editors working for them have been imprisoned by the conservative-dominated Iranian judiciary. The reformist press has consistently been accused by conservative clerics, including the Iranian Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as being “a base of the enemy” and as “satanic,” working to overthrow the Islamic Republic. Human Rights Watch is gravely concerned that Mr. Pourzand could face fabricated charges on the basis of Ms. Farimehr’s forced confession or his alleged links to supporters of the monarchy.

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