During the night of August 28, 2012 — the day before UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was to arrive in Tehran for a summit of the Nonaligned Movement (NAM) — ailing Iranian journalist Isa Saharkhiz was removed from a hospital and returned to the notorious Evin prison.
Saharkhiz is just one of dozens of journalists and writers being held in Iranian prisons since the crackdown on political dissent that came after the disputed 2009 reelection of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.
He was sentenced to two years in prison in 2009. In August 2011, the authorities added three years to his sentence for allegedly “insulting the leader and carrying out propaganda activities against the regime.”
In a further effort to silence his voice, the 59-year-old Saharkhiz has been barred from journalistic and political activity for five years after he completes his sentence.
In 2011, Saharkhiz wrote an open letter to the UN human rights rapporteur for Iran, Ahmad Shaheed, urging him to inspect Iran’s jails. “What is going on in Iranian prisons is a crime against humanity and is just as bad as Stalin’s inhumane forced labor camps in Siberia.”
As if to underscore Saharkhiz’s words, prominent Iranian blogger Sattar Beheshti died while in police custody earlier this month, with fellow prisoners charging that the 35-year-old had been beaten and hung by his limbs during interrogation. Iranian officials have said he died of “cardiac arrest” and “natural causes.”
Saharkhiz, speaking to RFE/RL’s Radio Farda during the 2009 protests, urged U.S. President Barack Obama to lift economic sanctions against his country, arguing that closer ties with the outside world would prompt Iranians to make more strident demands for human rights and democratic reform.
“He [Obama] should let Iran and Iranians deal with their issues through their development and well being and a better life,” Saharkhiz said. “Such people — who won’t have to worry about day to day life issues — will then more effectively focus on democracy and human rights issues.”
After Saharkhiz was initially arrested in 2009, his son, Mehdi Saharkhiz, commented on events being held around the world in support of his father, who at the time was recovering from broken ribs and had had no access to lawyers.
“These events help people inside and outside Iran, citizens of other countries, become aware of what is happening, and it also helps us get more news and give more coverage,” Saharkhiz said. “This creates hope for the people of Iran. They see that Iranians outside the country are also with them. I think it has a very positive effect. I’ve received e-mails from several groups inside Iran who have said that they have launched hunger strikes to coincide with the hunger strike here. It shows that they all know about this and are supporting it.”