Iranian political prisoner jumps to his death

RNW archive

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Iranian political prisoner Siamak Pourzand committed suicide by jumping from his balcony on the sixth floor last Friday. The elderly former journalist decided to take his own life after years of house arrest in Tehran. On her blog his daughter in the Netherlands wrote, “You have the right to seek freedom.”

During a visit to the Netherlands in May 2001, Siamak Pourzand appeared very fragile. This might have been because he had very little freedom of movement even back then. He was no longer allowed to practice his profession as a journalist, film critic and essayist. According to the Iranian regime at the time, he was an enemy of the Islamic state. He was also accused of receiving money from the CIA.

He came across as a very charming man – to women in particular. He had travelled to the Netherlands with his wife Mehrangiz Kar, a well-known Iranian human rights lawyer and activist for women’s rights. Partly thanks to mediation by the Dutch embassy, she was allowed to leave the country to be treated for breast cancer. She had been arrested a number of times for her criticism of Islamic law. There are still legal cases against her today. My former employer, current affairs programme Netwerk, interviewed her in the presence of her husband.

A year later, he suddenly disappeared. Mr Pourzand was thought to have been kidnapped by the Iranian security service. It was only after a number of months that he appeared on television. Under severe pressure from the authorities he admitted he had not been loyal to the state. In 2006, he was given house arrest instead of prison detention due to his poor health. His wife and daughters had already fled the country. They rang him every day.

His daughter Azadeh is currently studying at the prestigious Dutch Business University Nyenrode. On her weblog she wrote: “What happened, Siamak Pourzand? I don’t hold it against you. You have the right to seek freedom in this way. (..) But the idea that you held on to the railing before your death is unbearable.”

John F. Kennedy
The Washington Post dedicated a long obituary to the 80-year-old-journalist. In the 1960s and 1970s he interviewed US president Nixon and reported on the funeral of John F. Kennnedy. But he never mentioned this during his visit to the Netherlands. It was part of his past.