Saturday, 21 March 2009

New York Times: Iranian Blogger Dies in Prison

Human rights groups and an American-financed radio station report that an Iranian blogger, Omidreza Mirsayafi, who had been sentenced to two years in prison for insulting the country’s leaders, died in Tehran’s Evin Prison on Wednesday.

According to Radio Farda, a Farsi-language station that is part of the American-government-financed network of radio stations Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Mr. Mirsayafi’s family is not certain that authorities told them the truth about how the blogger died:

Prison authorities have notified Mirsayafi’s family that he committed suicide on March 18 by overdosing on sedative tablets. But while Mirsayafi was known to have taken such medication to treat depression, his sister says he would not have possessed enough to kill himself.

Radio Farda adds that Mr. Mirsayafi’s lawyer, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, “claims that a doctor imprisoned at Evin named Hesem Firozi told him the death could be attributed entirely to the prison’s failure to provide Mirsayafi with proper medical assistance.” Mr. Dadkhah told the radio station that the imprisoned doctor told him that Mr. Mirsayafi, reportedly in his mid- to late 20s, had an irregular heartbeat, possibly as the result of taking an overdose, but that his life could been saved if the prison hospital had responded appropriately. According to Mr. Dadkhah’s account:

“The doctor told them how to treat him, asked them to send him to a city hospital. But they ignored the doctor and said [Mirsayafi] was faking his illness. The doctor said, ‘His heartbeat is 40 per minute, you can’t fake that.’ But they sent the doctor out of the room.”

According to Reporters Without Borders: “Most of the articles on Mirsayafi’s blog were about traditional Persian music and about culture.” The rights group, which campaigns for press freedom, explains that Mr. Mirsayafi was sentenced last month to “two years in prison for ‘insulting’ the Islamic Republic’s leaders and six months in prison for ‘publicity against the government.’”

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran reports that:
In an interview with the Campaign on 16 December 2008, Mirsayafi said his blog was completely private and was read only by a few of his friends. He also said that expert testimony by an Intelligence Ministry official during his trial emphasized this point and that he should not receive such a heavy sentence.
After Mr. Mirsayafi was convicted he told Reporters Without Borders: “I am a cultural and not a political blogger. Of all the articles I have posted online, only two or three were satirical. I did not mean to insult anyone.”

The rights group adds that it recently received an e-mail from Mr. Mirsayafi in which he wrote: I am worried. The problem is not my sentence of two years in prison. But I am a sensitive person. I will not have the energy to live in prison. I want everything to be like it was before. I want to resume my normal life and continue my studies.

Jay Pickthorn/The Forum, via Associated Press Reza Saberi, in his Fargo, N.D. home on Feb. 28, with a photograph of his daughter, Roxana Saberi.
Earlier this week, the father of the Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi,
told Lindsey Hilsum of Britain’s Channel 4 News that he had spoken to his daughter, who is still being held in Evin Prison.
He added that waiting for her release is “a nightmare.” Ms. Hilsum reported on Channel 4’s World News blog that Reza Saberi said his daughter “didn’t sound terribly good,” when he spoke to her on a telephone in Evin Prison on Monday. “She said life in prison is psychologically challenging.” That is, as Ms. Hilsium says, obviously an understatement. Mr. Saberi added: “We told her to hang on, and not give in. The whole world is with her.”
Two weeks ago, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the U.S. State Department had been working through intermediaries to win Ms. Saberi’s release, and an Iranian official said that Ms. Saberi would be released “within days.” Her father told Ms. Hilsum that if his daughter was not released by the start of the Iranian New Year’s celebrations this Friday evening, she is unlikely to leave Evin Prison before the end of the two-week holiday.

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