International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran | July 26, 2010

In an interview with the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, the attorney of prominent Iranian journalist Issa Saharkhiz’s expressed outrage over Saharkhiz’s appearance in court with handcuffs and shackles. “Such treatment is most inappropriate for a prominent journalist such as Mr. Saharkhiz who has a bright and clear background in all his numerous social services,” said Nasrin Sotoudeh. Saharkhiz’s lawyers also objected to his closed trial.

“Considering Mr. Saharkhiz’s career in journalism and the types of charges made against him, these charges are both political and related to the media. For political and media-related charges, according to Article 168 of Iranian Constitution, he must be tried in a general court with a jury and through a public trial. When at the beginning of the trial it was announced that the sessions will not be public, myself and the other lawyers objected,” said Sotoudeh.

Issa Saharkhiz was arrested on 3 August 2009. In the defense he provided the court during his 18 July 2010 closed session trial, he referred to numerous examples of prisoner human rights violations, mistreatment, and beatings inside the prisons. He called the charges of “participation in and public incitement for riots, insulting the Supreme Leader, and propagation against the regime” baseless and “a fabrication of a case against himself based on conspiracy theories.”

Saharkhiz was formerly the Executive Director of Domestic Press in the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami. He was arrested in the Northern town of Nour by security forces. He has spent his entire 380 days in prison as a security criminal inside Wards 209 and 350 of Evin Prison and Rajaee Shahr and Fardis prisons in Karaj. Saharkhiz has not been allowed to have a single day of furlough during his detention.

Nasrin Sotoudeh told the Campaign that Saharkhiz’s psychological state is very good but that his physical conditions have been deteriorating daily. “You know that he has been in ‘temporary detention’ for more than a year. A charge raised against him is ‘insulting the Supreme Leader.’ The maximum penalty for this charge is two years in prison. In fact he has served a whole year in temporary detention for a crime which could bring him a maximum of two years in prison. My question is, if my client is acquitted, or if he is sentenced to six months or one year in prison, or to a prison term less than the time he has served in temporary detention, who will be accountable for the extra time he has served in prison?” said Sotoudeh.

Regarding her client’s defense in court, Sotoudeh emphasized, “Naturally, when a person is defending himself, his defense is a tool used for refuting the charges made against him. This defense must not be used for raising new charges against the defendant, otherwise ‘defense’ will lose its meaning and importance.”

During his defense, Saharkhiz described the way intelligence forces had gone to his home to arrest him. “Let me tell you right here about an incident that happened a few days before my arrest. Let me tell you about the day when several men entered my home by force and through making threats in the absence of my wife and when my young 18-19 year old daughter was at home by herself. They frightened her in such a way that she became sick and spent some time in bed,” said Saharkhiz.

Saharkhiz told the court that after his arrest, his family did not know anything about his whereabouts for three weeks. He said that during this time he was imprisoned inside a 2 x 3 meter solitary confinement cell without a vent.

The journalist described the many instances of violations of his human rights from the moment of his arrest, saying, “During my arrest, I was beaten so harshly that my sides and wrists became swollen and turned purple, a tendon in my left shoulder was damaged, my ribs were broken, and the cartilage in a part of the lower left bones in my ribcage became detached.” “Torture and heavy punches and kicks by at least six forces is a clear and obvious violation of our national laws, especially the Constitution and the Islamic Penal Code,” he included in his defense.

According to Article 38 of the Iranian Constitution, “any type of torture for extracting confessions or information is illegal. Forcing an individual to testify, confess, or swear is not allowed and such testimony, confession, and swearing is worthless. Violators of this article will be punished according to the law.”

Saharkhiz told the arresting forces that his ribs were broken but they treated this information as a joke. Considering his internal hemorrhaging during the Mazandaran-Tehran drive, while the officers were joking around he could have faced serious life threats. In the end, the Evin Prison physician warned about his deteriorating physical condition. The warning would eventually lead to Saharkhiz’s transfer to Qamar Banihashem Hospital in Tehran.

“Those several weeks of solitary confinement, along with the pain and suffering caused by the broken ribs and the swollen and blackened patches on my body, the illegal, blindfolded interrogations, the accusations and unfounded charges, and efforts to force me to confess to crimes I had not committed, all continued until my unfavorable physical conditions led to my falling down and passing out in my solitary cell,” he said regarding his interrogations and detention conditions inside the solitary cell. “In order to prevent potential risk and a repetition of this, they sent a young, Sunni Afghan man to my cell to ‘keep me company.’ This is how the 6 square meter cell had to be divided in half and my sleeping and eating time had to be further disrupted by the entry of a drug addict. My cellmate who was addicted was unable to sleep at night. He was further unable to sleep due to the torture and beatings he had received during his arrest….”

Saharkhiz emphasized that as a result of the beatings and the injuries he sustained and lack of proper medical care, he has sustained lifetime pains in his body. “Now I lie down at night in a state which is like being poked with a sharp object in my body. I will have this pain and torture with me for the rest of my life.”

Saharkhiz’s un-standard detention conditions deteriorated to the point where he was forced to share the same small cell with three other people during different times. All the other prisoners were drug addicts and smugglers. This was against the procedures which emphasize prisoners must be kept with cellmates who are their peers inside a cell. According to this law, a criminal suspect must not be kept in the same cell as a prisoner of conscience.

Saharkhiz has even been kept with seven other prisoners in that same 2 x 3 meters cell. “There was no room for all of us to sleep. The prisoners took turns sleeping,” he said about the cell.

During his trial, the journalist demanded a clarification on the “plaintiff in his case.” He asked that if Iran’s Supreme Leader, Mr. Khamenei is his real plaintiff, where has he registered his complaint? He added that if there is no plaintiff in his case, all charges against him which need a plaintiff must be eliminated. Also referring to Article 32 of the Iranian Constitution, he said that “the suspect must be tried as soon as possible.” Saharkhiz asked the court “do 380 days of detention represent ‘as soon as possible’ and a fair and legal treatment by the Iranian Judiciary?”

Article 32 of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Constitution stipulates, “No one may be arrested except with the order and procedures which the law determines. When an arrest takes place, the charges, citing the reasons, must be immediately announced and explained in writing to the suspect and within a maximum of 24 hours the initial case file must be prepared and sent to eligible judicial authorities and the preface to a trial be set as soon as possible. Violators of this article will be punished according to the law.”

Related Link: Issa Saharkhiz’s complete defense on Kaleme’s website