(New York) - Human Rights Watch today announced a Hellman/Hammett grant, awarded to persecuted writers, for the Iranian human rights activist Mohammad Sadegh Kaboudvand. He is serving a 10-year prison term in Iran for his writings and is in a critical medical condition in urgent need of care.
Each year, Human Rights Watch awards Hellman/Hammett grants to writers punished by their governments for expressing opposition views, criticizing government officials or actions, or writing about topics that the government does not want reported. A special emergency grant is awarded to writers who need to flee for their safety or need immediate medical treatment for injury caused by torture, assault or harsh prison conditions.
"Kaboudvand's work as a human rights defender and journalist promoting critically needed reform in Iran has landed him in prison with little access to urgently needed medical care," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "His experience is harsh testimony to the plight of journalists, dissidents and other peaceful critics in Iran today."
Kaboudvand is a prominent human rights defender, journalist, and founder in 2005 of a group that seeks to protect the rights of Iranian Kurds, the Human Rights Organization of Kurdistan (HROK). The group grew to include 200 local reporters throughout the Iranian Kurdish region, allowing it to provide detailed and timely reports from throughout the region, published in the now-banned newspaper Payam-e Mardom (Message of the People) for which Kaboudvand was the managing director and editor.
Through his human rights and journalism work, Kaboudvand was instrumental in creating a civil society network for Kurdish youth and activists. He is also the author of three books, Nimeh-ye Digar ("The Other Half," a book on women's rights), Barzakh-e Democracy ("The Stuggle for Democracy"), and Jonbesh-e Ejtemaii ("Social Movements").
Intelligence agents arrested Kaboudvand on July 1, 2007 and then searched his home and possessions, his lawyers said. The agents took him to ward 209 of Evin Prison, under the control of the Intelligence Ministry and used to detain political prisoners. They held him without charge in solitary confinement for nearly six months.
In May 2008, Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court sentenced Kaboudvand to 10 years in prison for "acting against national security by establishing the Human Rights Organization of Kurdistan, widespread propaganda against the system by disseminating news, opposing Islamic penal laws by publicizing punishments such as stoning and executions, and advocating on behalf of political prisoners." In October 2008, Branch 54 of the Tehran Appeals Court upheld his sentence.
The Iranian government relies on these and other provisions of its "security laws" to imprison writers, intellectuals, and human rights defenders for expressing critical views, or for trying to meet peacefully. In 2008, Human Rights Watch issued a report about how Iran's security laws are used to clamp down on independent activism (http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2008/01/06/you-can-detain-anyone-anything-0 ).
Kaboudvand's wife and three children last heard from him on December 16. On December 17, Kaboudvand, whose parents both died of heart attacks, suffered a heart attack in prison, said his lawyers. He had already been in fragile health because of a previous heart attack, high blood pressure, a kidney infection, and a prostate condition. According to his lawyers, the authorities have rejected requests from prison doctors to allow him access to specialists for medical care that is not available in the prison medical center.
Human Rights Watch called on the Iranian government to grant Kaboudvand the medical care he needs to treat his life-threatening conditions immediately and to end his unjust confinement. Human Rights Watch reiterated its calls on the government to repeal the vague and arbitrary provisions of its penal code used to silence critics and activists who seek to exercise their rights to free expression and assembly.
Human Rights Watch started the Hellman/Hammett program in 1990. Since then, it has awarded grants to more than 600 writers from 91 countries. It awards the grants every year after a selection committee composed of authors, editors, and journalists who have a longstanding interest in free expression issues review nominations.