To the Editors:
Another grave violation of civil rights and due process of law has occurred in Iran. Seven well-known and outspoken supporters of the Iranian president, Mohammad Khatami, attended a Berlin conference on “Iran After the Elections” and were arrested shortly after their return to Tehran. Those arrested included Akbar Ganji, a journalist instrumental in investigating the serial murders of Iranian intellectuals; Mehrangiz Kar, a prominent civil rights lawyer and women’s rights activist; Shahla Lahiji, a distinguished publisher and outspoken advocate of women’s rights; Ezzatollah Sahabi, a reformist journalist;Hamid-Reza Jalai-Pur, a senior member of the editorial board of the leading reformist daily, Asr-e Azadegan; Jamilch Kadivar, a recently elected member of the Sixth Parliament; and Ali-Reza Afshari, a leader in the student movement for civil rights.
They were accused of acting against the national security of the Islamic Republic and of “desecrating Islamic sanctities” by taking part in the conference. The Revolutionary Court issued a statement declaring that during the conference “the sacred Islamic regime of Iran and its principles were insulted.” The trumped-up grounds for these charges were staged scenes at the conference that were shown on Iranian state television, in which those charged were seen at the Berlin conference watching the sexually provocative behavior of a few people intent upon disrupting and discrediting the conference.
While four of those arrested have been released on bail, the others—Akbar Ganji, Mehrangiz Kar, and Shahla Lahiji—remain in prison. Their fate has been made more perilous by the orders indefinitely suspending publication of most of the pro-reformist press—a suspension that virtually eliminates access to information. The situations of Akbar Ganji and Shahla Lahiji are particularly urgent because one suffers from a severe case of asthma and the other from acute angina.
The arrest and imprisonment of these men and women egregiously violate their civil rights and due process of law. We call upon President Khatami, the highest democratically elected official in Iran, to demand their immediate, unconditional release. If there are formal charges against them, the charges must be delivered through proper legal channels. The accused must be afforded legal representation and tried publicly, in full view of the national and international press. We also call upon Hojjat al Islam Mohmoud Hashemi-Shahroudi, head of the Judiciary, who is responsible for safeguarding the civil rights of citizens, to immediately end these blatant violations of basic juridical principles.
Associate Professor of Middle Eastern and Asian Languages and Cultures
Columbia University,New York City
Marrow Professor of Psychology ,Graduate Faculty
New School University,New York City
Signers of this letter include Susan Sontag, David Rieff, Michael Ignatieff, Janos Kis, and John Hollander.