Issa Saharkhiz: Prisoner of the day

Sentence completed, still not released

CPJ: This week marked the end of the three-year sentence of Iranian journalist Issa Saharkhiz. Following major health problems developed in prison, Saharkhiz was transferred to a Tehran hospital several months ago, where medical commissions have found his health state unfit for remaining in prison. Saharkhiz family's pleas, requesting his release on medical furlough, however, remain unaddressed. Prior to his emergency hospitalization, Saharkhiz was not granted a single day of furlough during his imprisonment.

On July 3, 2009, Saharkhiz, a columnist for the reformist news websites Rooz Online and Norooz and a founding member of the Association of Iranian ‎Journalists, was arrested while traveling in northern Iran, the association said in a ‎statement. ‎His lawyer said his client was charged with “participation in riots,” “encouraging others to participate in riots,” and “insulting the supreme leader,” according to Rooz Online.

Saharkhiz was sentenced to three years in prison, a five-year ban on political and journalistic activities, and a one-year ban on foreign travel, the reformist news website Jonbesh-e-Rah-e-Sabz reported in September 2010. In an interview with Radio Zamaneh, Mehdi Saharkhiz said his father would not appeal the court’s decision. “He said that all sentencing is made under [Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei’s direct supervision and the judiciary has nothing to do with it. Therefore, neither the lower court nor the appeals court is official in any way, and they are only for show.” On 4 August 2011, Saharkhiz was sentenced to an additional two years in prison for what the court vaguely called "his prior journalistic activities," increasing his prison sentence to five years.

Saharkhiz has had a long career in journalism. He worked for 15 years for IRNA, Iran’s official news agency, and ran its New York office for part of that time. He returned to Iran in 1997 to work in Mohammad Khatami’s Ministry of Islamic Guidance, in charge of domestic publications. Journalist Ahmad Bourghani and Saharkhiz came to be known as the architects of a period of relative freedom for the press in Iran. But as the regime took a more conservative bent, Saharkhiz was forced to leave the ministry and was eventually banned from government service. He founded a reformist newspaper, Akhbar-e-Eghtesad, and monthly magazine, Aftab, both of which were eventually banned. He wrote articles directly critical of Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader.

During his imprisonment, which began at Evin Prison, Saharkhiz was subjected to constant pressure, including being kept in a prison yard overnight in freezing temperatures without shoes or socks, according to Rooz Online.

Saharkhiz’s son, Mehdi, told the BBC Persian service that the journalist had waged a hunger in October 2011. Mehdi Saharkhiz expressed concern about his father's well-being, telling the BBC that the journalist suffered from blood pressure, spine, and neck problems. The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran reported on 8 January 2012 that Saharkhiz has been transferred to a hospital in Tehran.


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