Rebel with a pause

News that 31-year-old Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi has received an eight-year jail sentence for being a US “spy” comes a month after 29-year-old blogger Omid-Reza Mirsayafi was found dead in Evin prison and deals a blow to President Obama’s change of foreign policy tack with Iran’s clerics.  

It is, however, an apt blow – Obama’s now famous Norouz speech, in which he stopped short of praising Ayatollah Khamenei’s taste in underwear, eclipsed reports of Mr Mirsayafi’s death.

On 28 March, Voice of America Persian’s website published a report that quoted Reporters Sans Frontieres’ Reza Moini, Amir-Parviz Mirsayafi, Omid’s brother, and Masoumeh, his sister. In that report Amir-Parviz accused the prison authorities of having beaten his brother to death – it was accompanied by a head-and-shoulders shot of Omid’s roughed-up body.

His sister, Masoumeh Mirsayafi, has lashed out at inconsistencies in the account of events after Omid-Reza’s death given by the prison authorities, the coroner and the hospital.

This development, however, appears to have escaped English-language news outlets and bloggers with an interest in Omid’s story, while it has been reported in London’s Persian-language Keyhan.  

Below is a translation of an excerpt from the VOA Persian posting. The original Persian did not appear to have been edited and was frankly, sloppy, possibly because it’s a transcript of a broadcast. Either way, VOA Persian might consider translating its articles into English in future and following up this report. (Curiously, Reporters Sans Frontieres’ website doesn’t seem to carry the quotation below in English or Persian.)  

What Roxana Saberi or the detained blogger Hossein Derakhshan were doing in the Islamic Republic in the first place is their business. What’s clear is that they – and all those whose names do not feature in press reports – should be released immediately. And next time Mr Obama claims that “a common humanity” binds himself, the people of Iran and the Islamic Republic’s leaders together, he might check whether a blogger has been killed that week.

Amir-Parviz Mirsayafi [in translation from VOA report by Payam Yazdian, 28/03/2009]: Watch

The morning after we heard [the news of my brother Omid’s death] we went to identify the body. I saw the body myself. The left ear had suffered severe bleeding. His nose was bloody. His face was bruised. The back of his shoulders and his back were bruised and he appeared to have a skull fracture behind his ear such that the sheet his body had been wrapped in was covered with blood behind his head. Then, there [it’s not made clear where precisely] they handed the body over to us. We sent it to the coroner in Kahrizak. It was there for four hours and it seemed a post-mortem had been done but no explanation was given to us about what they found.   

We were given a form to fill in that had questions about Omid’s medical history, all of which we answered in the negative – he was not ill, or an addict or anything else. There was a section that asked whether we had any complaints to make. I wrote “yes” although there were people there who suggested that saying yes might result in the authorities withholding the body. I said in that case we don’t want the body, what use is my brother’s corpse to me?  

I wrote that we do have a complaint – the authorities at Evin prison are responsible, this is a suspicious death that must be investigated – and signed the form. After four hours we were given the body [for burial].  

When his body was undergoing the ritual wash, his ear still seemed to be bleeding despite the fact that we had been told he had taken [overdosed on] pills and his blood pressure had dived and then died…

My father worked as a hospital nurse for 30 years and says such a thing is not possible and that he had clearly suffered a beating. One of us managed, at the time we were identifying the body, to take a picture of the right side of Omid’s face. If only it had been taken from the left side.

We had been told that we would be given the coroner’s report in a week. When we spoke to others with similar experiences, they told us the report might take two to three months. We have no faith in receiving the true coroner’s report. They are sure to be under pressure to write things that agree with the government’s version of events. I believe that Omid suffered a beating… and the poor thing had such a delicate frame… I am sure that the attack made him fall ill and that he died as a result. 

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