Journalists and political prisoners face death in Iran

Press Gazette British Press Awards international journalist of the year Muhamad Sediq Kaboudvand remains in jail in Iran despite failing health. Journalists are among dozens of political prisoners facing imminent threat of execution in Iran.

Here documentary film-maker Fazel Hawramy writes about the plight of journalists and other political prisoners in Iran and urges the UK media to take note of their plight.

I have been asked to write 500 words about the plight of Kurdish political prisoners in Iran. The truth is I need 5,000 words only to describe the pain I felt when I listened to the wailing of Farzad Kamangar’s mother when she realised her son, a teacher and a journalist, had been executed by the Islamic Republic of Iran on 9 May in Tehran alongside three other young men and a young woman.

Their lawyers and families were not present when they were executed. Indeed neither Farzad nor the other four – Shirin Alam-Holi, Farhad Vakili, Mehdi Eslamian and Ali Heidarian – were aware that they were going to be hanged.

As if losing a young son or a daughter was not enough for the bereaved families, the government refused to give them back the bodies for burial and placed at least two of the families under house arrest. The fear of the Iranian government runs so deep that it is even scared of five dead bodies.

All five maintained their innocence until the end.

Khalil Bahramian, a lawyer who represented three of the accused, believes that: “The sentence issued for Mehdi Eslamian did not par with the facts of the case but on Farzad Kamangar, I can say [he was] a person hundred percent innocent who did not have any thing to do with the case and the accusations against him.”

Last year in the UK, the imprisoned Kurdish journalist and human rights activist, Muhamad Sediq Kaboudvand was named as the “International Journalist of the Year”. He set up the Human Rights Organisation of Kurdistan (HROK) in 2005 to defend prisoners like Farzad Kamangar but was arrested in July 2007 for reporting human rights abuses carried out by the government.

He was subsequently sentenced to 11 years in prison for setting up HROK, publishing a book on women’s rights as well as being the editor of the magazine ‘Message of the People”. He has had two heart attacks in prison since his arrest and is currently in very poor health. He has not been allowed access to treatment outside prison.

Kaveh Ghasemi Kermanshahi, another Kurdish Iranian journalist and human rights activist who studied law in Iran, effectively became the engine of the organisation after the imprisonment of its founder. In November 2009, the Iranian government executed a young Kurdish man called Ehsan Fattahian for alleged links with an opposition Kurdish group. Kaveh did not sleep during the night of Ehsan’s execution and held a vigil outside Sanandaj prison in Kurdistan province with a group of people in the hope of stopping his execution. Their efforts were in vain.

After the execution, Kaveh wrote an emotional article in which he heavily criticised the authorities for their cruelty towards Ehsan and other political prisoners. Shortly after the article was published he was arrested and held in prison for four months. He recently endured a week-long hunger strike in order to persuade the authorities to allow him to see his family. He was released on Sunday

Joe Stork the deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch states that: ‘The judiciary routinely accuses Kurdish dissidents, including civil society activists, of belonging to armed separatist groups and sentences them to death in an effort to crush dissent.”

The weekend following the executions no newspaper in the UK thought this story even merited a brief mention let alone an in-depth analysis. One editor at a major Sunday newspaper replied to a question I raised about this by saying: “I am sorry that these Kurdish prisoners are facing execution, the story isn’t of interest to us unless something occurs.” The fact is something did occur. Five Kurds, who maintained their innocence, were hanged.

When comparing the coverage of these executions with the recent arrests of three US citizens on the Iran/ Iraq border in the Kurdish region, it’s little wonder why the Iranian government feel they can carry on killing. They know the international media won’t be paying attention.

There are currently 17 more Kurdish prisoners facing execution in Iran. Two of these prisoners; Habibolah Latifi and Habibolah Golparipour are at imminent risk of execution.

Surely it’s time for the media to stop regarding the human rights abuses of Kurds in Iran as a non-issue. The UK press may want to remind themselves of Martin Luther King’s quote”Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

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