They threat, they beat, they lure you

2009/11/23

Published in “Der Spiegel” on November 23, 2009
Source (German): http://www.spiegel.de/spiegel/0,1518,662845,00.html

Journalist Pajooh: A generation struggling for freedom

No access to her lawyer, no charge: Journalist Fariba Pajooh has been detained in the notorious Evin prison since August.

When the intelligence agents called, Fariba Pajooh knew that something bad was going to happen. We want to talk to you, they said. An informational talk.

A couple of days later, the men came to get her. It was the 22. August, the first day of the fasting month of Ramadan. Fariba Pajooh had been home with her mother all day, they had been preparing the feast for the night. She briefly went outside to get some sweets. When she returned home, she was accompanied by three men.

They were polite, her mother says. For an hour they searched drawers, closets, computers. Mother and daughter were allowed to break the fast together, trembling with fear, with dates and tea. Then they said that Fariba had to come with them, just for an hour. They promised her mother to treat her daughter as if she was their own child. It was a lie.

Since then, Fariba Pajooh, 29, a delicate woman with a beautiful, maidenly face, has been detained in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, in department 209 which is controlled by the intelligence. She is one of more than one hundred journalists and bloggers arrested by the regime following the bloody crack down on the demonstrations against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s elctoral fraud. Only few of them have been held as long as Fariba Pajooh, though. Her case clearly illustrates how cruelly the regime is dealing with journalists.

In her detention she is suffering from severe depression and cardiac arrhythmia caused by stress. In the first month her parents were not allowed to see her, later they were allowed visits on Mondays, but were nevertheless sent back home many times. Her current lawyer was not allowed to talk to her even once. Only after two months she learned what her client is accused of: first espionage, then “propaganda against the regime”.

Fariba Pajooh belongs to the generation of Iranians that has been struggling for freedom since their youth. At the age of 18 she was arrested for the first time. She became a journalist, wrote for reformist newspapers, for state run news agencies and newspapers – not about big politics, but about the social problems in Iran.

She was arrested a second time when she was about to travel to the USA to attend the presidential election. When the protests against the regime shook the country this year, she worked round-the-clock, also as a translator for a Colombian correspondent, which made her look even more suspicious to the authorities. She told friends that she was aware of the danger she was in, but she wanted a better future for Iran.

“The pen is the enemy of ignorance”, she wrote in her blog, only a few days before she was arrested. “My pen is the friendliest of the friendly. I have conspired with my pen.”

The first month of her detention she spent in a “grave” – this is what Iran’s prisoners call the tiny underground dungeons in Evin, the prison situated on a hill overlooking Tehran from behind high walls, almost a city on its own. She is not in one of the departments controlled by the Basij militias from where word on torture and rape is getting out. But the loneliness of the solitary confinement wears down the spirit. Several times a day the detainees are summoned for interrogation, they get beaten and their bodies are frisked.

After a while they learn to distinguish their interrogators by their shoes that they can see despite their blindfolds, and by the extent of their aggressiveness. They insult, they threat, they beat the prisoners, and then they lure them: if they finally confess, they might soon be released.

After one month, Fariba Pajooh is transferred to the upper part of the prison. Now she has a cell mate, Hengameh Shahidi, a journalist like her. In late October, both start a hunger strike, after five days both are transferred to the hospital ward: Hengameh Shahidi is released, Fariba Pajooh is moved into another cell.

Now she is dwelling in a room of about 10 square meters, light is coming in only through a tiny hatch. At night the temperature in the cell drops to the freezing point. She has to take eight pills each day, three for her heart, three anti depressants, two sleeping pills.

Farideh Pajooh, her mother, says that Fariba is still being interrogated daily, sometimes until 11 at night. Her daughter’s hair, despite her youth, has white strands, and she is in a distressing mental condition.

Her mother has been wandering back and forth between offices, she has been put off and given promises many times. Human rights organizations got involved, but nothing happened. Allegedly, the hearing of evidence was finalized several days ago, but still no date has been set for the trial.

Last Wednesday her family out of despair staged a sit-in protest in the Revolutionary Court, for eight hours. Eventually they were allowed to talk to Tehran’s senior public prosecutor Abbas Jafari Doulatabadi. He said he would take care of it. Another promise.

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