Human Rights Watch will honor Omid Memarian, an Iranian human rights activist who has creatively used the internet to press for a more open and democratic political regime in Iran, with it highest honor, the Human Rights Watch Defender Award, on November 7.
Memarian embodies the new breed of human rights defenders who are pushing the boundaries of freedom of expression in Iran by working on the internet. He worked as a journalist for reformist newspapers until the Iranian government cracked down on the press and shuttered most of the independent papers.
Refusing to admit defeat, Memarian shifted to the internet, pioneering a new medium of human rights reporting. His blog is dedicated to social, cultural and civil society issues in Iran.
“Omid Memarian represents the generation of human rights defenders in Iran who came of age during the last decade of promised reforms,” said Hadi Ghaemi, Iran researcher with Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division. “As an insightful and popular commentator, he represents a threat to the current hardliners who are rolling back basic human rights in Iran.”
As a result of his public defense of human rights, Memarian was arrested with more than 20 other bloggers in October 2004. He was detained in solitary confinement, tortured repeatedly, and forced to make false confessions. Following protests from the international community, including Human Rights Watch, Memarian was released in December 2004. Human Rights Watch worked closely with his colleagues to campaign for his release.
The Iranian government’s use of torture in detention has effectively destroyed the country’s independent media, but Memarian has refused to back down and continues to blog. Since his release from prison, Memarian has worked with Human Rights Watch to expose arbitrary detentions, torture and mistreatment of prisoners in Iran at great personal risk.
“After the reformist press was crushed, blogs have become one of the last remaining outlets for free expression in Iran,” said Ghaemi.
“Omid has been an outspoken advocate of freedom of the press and democratic reforms even after he was detained and tortured by security forces in the past year,” said Ghaemi. “Human Rights Watch is honoring Omid to show solidarity with all the writers and activists across the Middle East who are using the web to break down government controls on human rights information and free expression.”