Iranian dissident journalist Issa Saharkhiz

US Court Finds Iran Guilty of Torturing Veteran Journalist

Tuesday, 06/04/2024

A US federal court has found Iran’s government guilty of torturing Iranian dissident journalist Issa Saharkhiz, ordering it to pay $5 million to Saharkhiz’s son, Mehdi, who lives in the US and has filed the lawsuit.

Significant as the ruling is symbolically, it is not expected to benefit the plaintiff financially, since Iran has no assets in the United States and funds may not be recovered from blocked Iranian assets. This has been confirmed by similar rulings in recent years, where individual lawsuits have been filed against the Islamic Republic under the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act.

Previous cases include that of the late Siamak Pourzand (d. 2011), whose wife and two daughters were awarded $34 million in damages by a US federal court in September 2022, after the judge heard reports of Pourzand’s abduction, detention and torture by the authorities in Iran.

More recently, in September 2023, the two daughters of former diplomat and deputy prime minister, Abbas Amirentezam (d. 2018), were awarded $6.5 million each in damages by a US District Court, after the judge ruled that Iran’s government and the Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) were “liable for torture” of Amirentezam –who served almost 40 years of incarceration and house arrest for “for fabricated charges of espionage”. Amirentezam was the longest-serving political prisoner after the 1979 Revolution in Iran.

All these cases –including that of Issa Saharkhiz– have been defended by Ali Hersichi of Herischi Human Rights Law Center. In his statement following the latest ruling, Herischi said the verdict on Saharkhiz was issued against the Islamic Republic, its Supreme Leader, and the IRGC.

The case took more than three years, according to Herischi, who wrote that the judge affirmed that “Saharkhiz was indeed tortured” in prison. “The court attributed responsibility for this torture to the Islamic Republic of Iran, citing systematic torture practices in its prisons,” Herischi said.

Issa Saharkhiz is a veteran journalist and former official who for five years in the 1990s ran the New York office of Iran’s official news agency (IRNA). He returned to Iran in the late 1990s and took charge of the press department at the Islamic Republic’s Culture Ministry. Saharkhiz was arrested and jailed after Iran’s disputed elections in 2009. He faced further imprisonments in 2015 and 2017, before being released in 2018.

“Throughout his imprisonment, Saharkhiz was subjected to various forms of torture,” according to the statement released by Herischi Human Law Center, “including beatings, denial of medical care, solitary confinement under inhumane conditions, and forced confessions without legal representation.”

The statement calls the ruling an “irrefutable evidence of illegal behavior and torture in Iranian prisons” which may help international courts “to prove the occurrence of torture” in prisons of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The Iranian government dismisses all such cases and chooses not to have representation in courts.

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