Blogger's death in detention still unexplained one year later

Published on 17 March 2010

Tomorrow is the first anniversary of blogger Omidreza Mirsayafi’s tragic death in Tehran’s Evin prison, a death that could have been avoided if the prison staff had not been negligent. “If they have acted promptly and done what was necessary, Mirsayafi could have been saved,” Reporters Without Borders said. “His death is all the more regrettable as his detention was totally unjustified.”

Mirsayafi collapsed at 12 noon on 18 March 2009 and was taken to the prison infirmary. The prison authorities then took three hours to transfer him to Loghman Hakim Hospital in the centre of Tehran. Admitted at 4 p.m., he died an hour later. An autopsy by a forensic doctor gave the cause of death as suicide by means of an overdose of a prescription drug (propranolol). The body was handed over to the family for burial.

His family called for a second autopsy in vain. A commission under the health ministry’s supervision issued a report in November 2009 that came to the same conclusions as the forensic doctor. The family brought a complaint against the Evin prison authorities.

Reporters Without Borders supports the family’s call for an investigation by an independent and impartial commission and the release of all documents that could shed light on the circumstances of Mirsayafi’s imprisonment and death.

Many questions remain unanswered. Why did the judge ignore Mirsayafi’s lawyer when he said his client would be unable to endure imprisonment because of his depressive tendencies? How was Mirsayafi able to obtain 50 pills without anyone noticing? Why did the prison staff take so long to transfer him to hospital despite the obvious urgency and gravity of the situation?

Everything points to gross negligence on the part of the authorities in the medical and psychological treatment they accorded Mirsayafi.

“Mirsayafi’s death is emblematic of the tragedy affecting dissidents in Iran today,” Reporters Without Borders said. “He is a symbol of all those who are hounded, persecuted, arrested, jailed and silenced. We pay tribute to his memory and we demand the immediate release of the 50 or so journalists and bloggers who are currently detained in Iran just for expressing their views freely.”

Agence France-Presse has meanwhile reported that Revolutionary Guards arrested around 30 netizens on 13 March. The arrests, which yet again had no legal basis, show that the authorities are reinforcing their crackdown on Internet users. For the first time those arrested were formally accused of direct links with opposition groups based abroad and western intelligence agencies including the CIA.

The Iranian authorities hold the CIA responsible for all the protests that have been taking place for the past nine months, accusing it of supplying software for circumventing censorship and inciting people to take part in banned demonstrations.

Reporters Without Borders urges the authorities to immediately name the 30 people who are being held and give the reasons for their arrests. Charges must be personal, not collective, and their rights must be respected.