Friday, March 20, 2009

Scary Times for Bloggers in Iran.

Bloggers encompass a wide spectrum of views and perspectives, and they play a vital role in open discussions of social, cultural and political affairs. But in recent months, bloggers in Iran have been 'detained' and perhaps more frightening, several media outlets are reporting that, Omidreza Mirsayafi, who had been sentenced to two years in prison for insulting the country's leaders, died in Tehran's Evin Prison this week.

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, Mirsayaf'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 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. Dadkhah told the radio station that the imprisoned doctor told him that Mirsayafi, 29, 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 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 Paris-based Reporters Without Borders Most of the articles on Mirsayafi’s blog were about traditional Persian music and about culture. The rights group, explained that Mirsayafi was sentenced last month to two years in prison for insulting the Islamic Republic’s leaders and six months in prison for publicity criticizing the government.

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran reports that:

In a December interview, 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 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.

In November Hossein Derakhshan, an Iranian-Canadian blogger known as Hoder was arrested in Tehran on charges of spying for Israel and could face the death penalty. Derakhshan known as the 'Iranian Blogfather' is believed to be still detained at an unknown location.

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression have published a letter of support, sent to Iran's Embassy and the Canadian government.

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. 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 Hilsium says, obviously an understatement. 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 Saberi's release, and an Iranian official said that Ms. Saberi would be released within days. Her father told Hilsum that if his daughter was not released by the start of the Iranian New Year celebrations this Friday evening, she is unlikely to leave Evin Prison before the end of the two-week holiday.

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