Iranian journalist Emadeddin Baghi (L), sitting next to follow writer Akbar Ganji (R), was arrested and detained in Tehran's Evin prison on charges of violating national security on Oct. 15. (Photo: Behrouz Mehri / AFP-Getty Images)
Prominent Iranian rights activist and leading prisoners' rights advocate Emadeddin Baghi was detained and imprisoned on Sunday, Oct. 15. Baghi, head of the Committee for the Defense of Prisoners' Rights and a renowned Iranian investigative journalist, had previously served a three-year term in prison for his writings in the reformist press. He was summoned to Tehran's revolutionary court on the charges of "propaganda against the Islamic Republic" and "divulging state secret information."
According to his lawyer, Saleh Nikbakht, Baghi was then detained on a previously suspended charge of "acting against national security" due to his writings on the chain of murders involving Iranian intellectuals. A sentence of one year in prison, which has now been applied to the Iranian activist, had been dropped after Baghi spent three years in prison in 2002.
Baghi, along with Akbar Ganji, was among the most prominent journalists who began to shed light on the origin and true sources of the chain of murders during the 1990's. The killing of intellectuals in Iran, which involved the stabbing deaths of some prominent writers and political activists, occurred before the reformists took power in Tehran.
Later, with constant investigations by Ganji and Baghi, as well as other rights activists, and with the empowering of the reformist president Mohammad Khatami, the judicial system announced that the murders had been committed by "obstinate" elements of the Iranian Intelligence service.
Among the prominent Islamic Republic figures accused by human rights advocates of masterminding the chain murders were Mostafa Pour Mohammadi and Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ezhei, now serving as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Interior and Intelligence ministers, respectively.
The detention has brought sharp criticisms from both inside and outside the country. Iranian lawyer, human rights advocate and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi said in an interview with Radio Farda that "the detention of Baghi marks another failure of Iranian government to fulfill even its own domestic laws." She posited that the arrest highlighted yet another "nod to the downfall of civil society values" in Iran.
Her assessment has been echoed by international rights organizations. The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders condemned the detention as another attack on journalists.
"Baghi's arrest is an example of the strategy of harassment and pressure being used against journalists by the Iranian authorities, who are trying to silence the growing number who are demanding the legitimate right to a free and independent press," said a statment issued by the press freedom organization.
Moreover, Amnesty International, which has long praised Baghi's activities as "an invaluable campaign for the prisoners rights" viewed the detention as "a continuation to undermine the influence of activists in the country" which is aimed at "dominating the atmosphere of fear in Iran for political purposes," as told by the organization's Iran researcher Drewery Dyke to Radio Farda.
According to the charges, Baghi obtained secret information from prisoners detained in security prisons and then disseminated this information during seminars organized by his group, his lawyer said.
Over the past months, Baghi had publicly protested against the wave of public hangings that have swept Iran as part of a campaign by the authorities, who posit that it is aimed at improving societal security.
Baghi, in recent years, had spearheaded a vast campaign in Iran, defending the rights of prisoners and convicts — particularly those sentenced to the death penalty. He, being a reformist religious figure who supported a revisionist interpretation of Islamic punitive law, has written numerous open letters, appealing and lobbying to save the lives of underage convicts in Iran, as well as other death row convicts whose sentences he saw as unlawful.
In September 2006, he wrote an open letter to the heads of the reformist parties — including former president Mohammad Khatami — complaining about their silence over the increased number of hangings, as reported by the Agence France-Presse (AFP) news agency.
According to official statistics, at least 207 executions have been carried out in the country so far this year, already well ahead of 2006 figures. Many critics consider the increase of the public executions as a means of retaining control over the country, as the economic situation continues to worsen.
Baghi has also directed a tireless campaign aimed at the abolition of the "stoning" verdict from Islamic punitive law which, although rarely exercised, is issued for the "crime" of adultery in Iran.
In 2005 Baghi was awarded the French Human Rights Prize in recognition of his work campaigning against the death penalty.
Attorney Saleh Nikbakht has said that he has "appealed and the case is currently in the hands of the court."
According to Reporters Without Borders, Baghi had told the Paris-based media advocate on the eve of his court appearance: "I am convinced they will not let me walk free from the courtroom. They want to ban my activities, although they are legal, and to silence all the independent voices in this country."
Among the complainants in Baghi's case are: Iran's Revolutionary Guard; the Intelligence ministry; the Iranian Police; Ali Fallahian, former Intelligence minister during the chain murders of intellectuals; and current interior minister Mostafa Pour Mohammadi.