Portrait: Dr. Ahmad Zeidabadi - Fake rial against UNESCO laureat
On April 7, 2011, imprisoned Iranian journalist Ahmad Zeidabadi was honoured with this year’s UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize. Adhmad Zeidabadi is viewed as one of the most important people in the Iranian reform movement.
He is well-known in Iran as a journalist, academic, author, political analyst and General Secretary of the "Office for Strengthening Unity" (OSU), and is the winner of the 2010 "Golden Pen of Freedom" of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA). Ahmad Zeidabadi has been imprisoned several times because of his journalistic work. In June 2009, shortly after the presidential election, he was once-again arrested and was sentenced to six years in prison in December 2009.
Ahmad Zeidabadi was born in 1965 in Zeidabad in the province of Kerman. He is married to and has two children with Mahdieh Mohammadi Gorgani. In 2010, Ahmad Zeidabadi received the WAN-IFRA "Golden Pen of Freedom" award because of an open letter he wrote while in prison during the same year, which protested the judiciary’s treatment of imprisoned journalists. In the letter, he accused the judges of "opposing and infringing upon the criteria and regulations of the Quran."
Ahmad Zeidabadi began his professional work as a journalist in 1989 for the newspaper Ettela'a. Contributions by him, the former chief editor of the newspaper "Azad", were published in the Tehran daily "Hamshahari", the BBC Persian Service and the Persian-English news website "Rooz." In his articles he has always defended ethnic and religious minority rights without attacking people or making compromises in the struggle for minority rights. His courage and integrity is admired by many of his colleagues, even if they do not hold his same opinions.
He is a member of the Iranian Journalists Association and President-elect of the Iranian Alumni Association, one of the largest student organizations in Iran. Zeidabadi holds a Ph.D. in International Affairs from the University of Tehran. He is also professor of political science and has taught at numerous academic institutions, including the Department of Iranian Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, USA.
Arrest and process
In 2000 Zeidabadi was arrested and convicted of incitement of public opinion and acting against national security and sentenced to 13 years in prison. In March 2001, he was provisionally released on bail. In 2003, Zeidabadi was re-arrested. This time he was sentenced to 23 months in prison and excluded for five years from participation in "all public and social activities, including journalism". In 2004 he was released from prison. Before the presidential elections of June 12, 2009, he worked as campaign-worker for opposition politicians Karroubi - and shortly after learning about the likely falsified election results, he was on June 21 arrested and jailed.
A week after the start of negotiations was Zeidabadi on a hunger strike to protest against his arrest, and went to a hospital after he was found unconscious in his cell for 17 days. According to reports, doctors were able to convince him to end his hunger strike. By August 8, 2009, when he had to attend a state in the televised show trial, he was kept in solitary confinement. During his detention, he had to go through numerous hearings, in which he was tortured mentally and physically. Nevertheless, his interrogators were able to force a confession from him.
His wife Mahdieh Mohammadi Gorgani reported after one of their rare visits to the prison, that Ahmad was on the brink of suicide. She was allowed to visit for the first time on August 17, 2009. She told of his extremely poor physical and mental condition. He was first held in a coffin-shaped, 1.5 m long cell and then underwent 35 days of solitary confinement.
The next time he met his wife mid-September 2009. He told her that he was beaten during an interrogation. In an interview on September 23, 2009, she reported on what the interrogators told her husband: "We have orders to make up done and if you do not cooperate with us, we can do with you what we want. If you are not to sign the interrogation report, we will force you to eat it".
On November 23, 2009 he was sentenced to six years imprisonment. He also received a lifetime ban on social and political activities. This effectively means that Zeidabadi may never write again in Iran. In addition, he was condemned to spend the first five years after his release from prison in exile in the northeastern Iranian city of Gonabad. He was imprisoned first in Tehran's Evin prison, but was moved on February 1, 2010 to the one closest to Tehran Karaj city.
Ahmad Zeidabadi is in Rajaee Shahr prison - not in cells with other political prisoners, but rather with common criminals, thieves and murderers. The hygienic conditions in this prison are not humane. In particular, the water quality is unacceptable and the risk of becoming infected with AIDS is very high. In Iranian prisons, a large proportion of prisoners are HIV-positive.
Persecution of critical journalists
Zeidabadi and more than 40 other journalists have been indicted as a result of the disputed presidential election of 2009. Also, around 100 major supporters of the reform movement in the country were put on trial and charged with planning a "soft revolution" to overthrow the clerical theocracy. At least 26 other journalists are still detained; some of them have to adjust to prison sentences of between five and nine years.