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News | UN Officials Urge Probe of Blogger Sattar Beheshti's Death in Prison

by DAN GEIST

16 Nov 2012 05:11Comments

"There should be zero tolerance for torture."

BeheshtiSitting.jpg[ in focus ] The director-general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and a group of four U.N. special human rights rapporteurs made matching calls Thursday for an investigation into the prison death of Iranian blogger Sattar Beheshti. On Sunday, Deputy Majles Speaker Mohammad Hasan Abutorabifard had pledged that the parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission would undertake such an inquiry. There have also been unconfirmed reports that persons allegedly involved in Beheshti's death have been arrested.

The 35-year-old Beheshti, a laborer in the Tehran suburb of Robat Karim, maintained a blog, Magalh 91, in which he criticized the government of the Islamic Republic, its handling of the economy, and its detention of scores of political prisoners. Arrested at his home by Iran's cyber police on October 30, he was incarcerated in Evin Prison where he died on November 3, reportedly after being subjected to severe beatings and other forms of torture while under interrogation. His body was turned over to his family at the Kahrizak coroner's facility, where a witness reported to a Tehran Bureau contributor that much of the corpse was covered in blood that looked as if it had gushed out of multiple spots. According to his family, authorities originally claimed that he had died due to preexisting "heart problems"; his relatives said that he was entirely healthy at the time of his arrest.

Seemingly conflicting accounts of the condition of Beheshti's body emerged from the Iranian state on Monday. Majles deputy Alaeddin Borujerdi, head of the National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, told the Islamic Students News Agency, "According to a preliminary report, no traces of beating were seen on his body." By contrast, an item from the semiofficial Mehr News Agency stated, "The coroner's office has provided a detailed report saying that signs of wounds were found in five places on this person's body, including foot, hand, back and one of his thighs, but no broken bones."

In the statement released by her office Thursday, UNESCO chief Irina Bokova said, "I am deeply concerned about the death in prison of Sattar Beheshti. I urge the authorities to investigate Mr. Beheshti's case and the exact circumstances of his death.

"It is essential to respect the right of citizen and professional journalists to speak and write without fearing for their lives. Freedom of expression is a basic human right and essential component of democracy, good governance and rule of law."

Meanwhile, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights announced that four high-ranking U.N. rights investigators -- Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran Ahmed Shaheed; Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions Christof Heyns; Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Juan E. Méndez; and Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression Frank La Rue -- were collectively making a similar call for an investigation, "particularly [into] the allegations of torture, and to make the result of such an investigation public."

Shaheed, who has been blocked since his June 2011 appointment as rapporteur from entering Iran and conducting his investigations first-hand, said, "There should be zero tolerance for torture. It is imperative that people who are potentially involved in committing such gruesome crimes are investigated and brought to justice, as failure to do so promotes a culture of impunity."

"Harsh prison sentences handed down to journalists and bloggers, following trials in which defendants' rights to due process and a fair trial are not guaranteed, exemplify broader conditions of severe restrictions on freedom of expression and opinion," observed La Rue.

According to a report in the Guardian, bloggers allied with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have declared that Beheshti's death vindicates the president's recent criticism of the Iranian judiciary. Sadegh Larijani, the judiciary chief, has denied Ahmadinejad access to Evin, where his head press adviser and state news agency director Ali Akbar Javanfekr has been incarcerated since September. On Thursday, Larijani described those bloggers' remarks as "hideous" and echoed the pledge that there would be an investigation into the death of Beheshti.

Noting that reports on the treatment of prisoners of conscience in the Islamic Republic indicate that the Beheshti case is not an isolated one, Méndez urged the Iranian government "to ensure that an inquiry is opened in each case of alleged torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in detention facilities and perpetrators are held accountable for their acts."

"When an individual dies as a consequence of injuries sustained while in state custody, there is a presumption of state responsibility," said Heyns.

Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau

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