Sunday, March 22, 2009

Call to prosecute officials after Iranian blogger dies in prison

The Guardian, Friday 20 March 2009

An Iranian blogger convicted of insulting the country's religious leaders has died in jail after taking a drug overdose.

Omidreza Mirsayafi, 29, died in Tehran's notorious Evin prison on Wednesday, just over a month after a judge gave him a two-and-a-half year sentence for posting comments on his blog about figures including the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini .

Human rights campaigners called for prison officials to be prosecuted after Mirsayafi took extra doses of tranquilisers prescribed by prison doctors. He was suffering from depression and had previously attempted to commit suicide, according to a fellow inmate.

His death followed that of Amir Hossein Heshmatsaran, founder of an Iranian opposition group called the National Unity Front, who died on 6 March while serving an eight-year sentence. Heshmatsaran's family alleged that he had died because of negligence, after suffering a stroke.

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said the deaths illustrated contempt for political detainees' health.

"Iranian leaders have relegated the administration of the prison system to a group of incompetent and cruel officials who are showing their utter disregard for human life," said Hadi Ghaemi, the campaign's spokesman. "If the authorities do not move quickly to hold negligent officials responsible, they are reinforcing impunity and the lack of accountability."

Mirsayafi was convicted of insulting religious leaders and of making propaganda against the Islamic system. He was awaiting a further trial on charges of insulting "sacred Islamic values". The offences were allegedly committed on his blog, Rouznegar, which focused mainly on music and cultural issues.

Mirsayafi denied the postings were insulting and said they were only intended to be read by friends. Before being convicted, he told associates he would die if he was imprisoned.

Details of Mirsayafi's deterioration in prison were given by Hesam Firoozi, an imprisoned doctor who witnessed his treatment. Firoozi, who has treated some of Iran's best-known political activists, told Mirsayafi's lawyer that medical staff had denied him proper care by failing to send him to hospital.

Iran has come under scrutiny before for its treatment of imprisoned activists. Human rights groups voiced outrage in July 2006 when Akbar Mohammadi, incarcerated for leading anti-government student demonstrations, died in Evin prison after going on hunger strike. He had been fasting to protest against the lack of treatment for injuries suffered in captivity.

News of Mirsayfi's death emerged as officials announced the arrest of 27 people they said were involved in pornographic and erotic websites allegedly created by foreign powers aiming to foment a "soft revolution" against the Islamic regime.

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