Human Rights in Iran: The Abuse of Cultural Relativism

By Reza Afshari | Go to book overview

Chapter 14
The Most Revealing Cases of
Violations of the Right to Freedom
of Expression and the Press

The cases that I have selected from among many ordeals experienced by intellectuals and dissident Shiite clerics best captured the intimidating climate in which they tried to assert their freedom of expression in the 1990s. Of the two secular intellectuals, one died in custody, and the other ended up in exile in Germany. The cases of Ali Akbar Sa‘idi Sirjani and Faraj Sarkuhi generated considerable publicity in the Western press, in the international human rights community, and among Iranian émigrés in the United States and Europe. Each in its own way revealed the dynamics of the human rights discourse in the Islamic Republic during most of the 1990s, underlining not only the shared characteristics with other authoritarian rules but also the added curses of the religious state. The latter was further underlined by the ordeals of the dissident Shiite clerics who suffered more prosecutions and harassment in the Islamic Republic than under the secular Shah’s state. I see no irony here, since the suffering was inherent in the mixing the contemporary state and religion, negatively affecting both.


The Death of Sa‘idi Sirjani

Sa‘idi Sirjani was a popular writer, scholar, and cultural commentator. I could have included his case in the categories of the rights to life, to security of the person, and to a fair trial. It is best considered here because his claim to freedom of expression led to the violations of his other human rights.

The clerics’ anger toward this remarkably independent writer and brilliant satirist was brewing for a long time; perhaps he was the only writer who hardly hesitated to express his criticism of the Ayatollah’s rule, even after the general suppression of the early 1980s had silenced almost everyone. The case of Sa‘idi Sirjani showed the Intelligence Ministry’s style of attacking intellectuals who refused to bend to the theocracy. It also revealed the

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