In a letter composed shortly before his arrest on January 27 by agents of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence, or state security, Faraj Sarkuhi, the Iranian writer and editor of the literary journal Adineh, writes: “I await imminent arrest or an incident whereby I will be murdered and my death will be presented as a suicide. Torture, prison, and death await me.” This was Sarkuhi’s fourth arrest in five months. Sarkuhi’s journal has been a forum for left-wing views. But his troubles appear to derive not so much from the contents of Adineh as from his activities in support of freedom of expression and the war that Iran’s security authorities have been waging against intellectuals of all stripes.
Sarkuhi also appears to be caught in the web of an elaborate plot hatched by Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence to discredit the government of Germany, where a trial has been under way of an Iranian and four Lebanese. They are charged with the 1992 assassination of the leader of Iran’s Kurdish Democratic Party and three companions while they were dining at the Mykonos restaurant in Berlin. In March 1996, the German Federal Prosecutor issued a warrant for the arrest of Ali Fallahian, the Iranian Minister of Intelligence, for his alleged role in planning the assassination; the prosecutor has also implicated Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei. This direct linking of Iran’s highest officials with the killing has roused the anger of the Iranian government and helps to explain Sarkuhi’s nightmarish predicament.
Sarkuhi was one of the writers who signed the October 1994 Iranian “Declaration of 134,” calling for freedom of literary expression. The declaration was in part a response to the imprisonment of the respected writer and satirist Ali-Akbar Saidi-Sirjani, who had been arrested on fabricated charges of spying, homosexuality, and drug use, and died while in police custody in November 1994. Since then, two more writers—both signers of the declaration—have died. The body of the translator Ahmad Mir-Alai was found in an Isfahan alley, far from his usual haunts, in October 1995—a death friends also attributed to interrogation at the hands of the security authorities. The essayist and translator Ghaffar Hosseini was found dead in his apartment in November 1996. These incidents explain Sarkuhi’s fear that he would be killed and his death made to appear the result of an accident or suicide.
This past August, Sarkuhi and five other prominent writers and intellectuals were at dinner at the home of the German cultural attaché, Jens Gust, when security agents burst in, filmed all the guests, and briefly held the Iranians. News about the party, the fact that alcohol was served and that men and unveiled women were “fraternizing,” was leaked to the papers. Nothing else happened at the time, but the Iranian participants feared, rightly as it turns out in the case of Sarkuhi, that the ground was being laid for charges of espionage and illicit …