(Last updated Jan 31, 1997)
Last November, Faraj Sarkoohi, a prominent Iranian journalist went missing. He was due to arrive in Hamburg to meet his wife and children.
He reappeared in Tehran in mid December and told reporters that he had quietly slipped into Germany to win custody of his children and to bring them back to Iran.
His disappearance had raised widespread concerns that he may have been arrested by Iran's security agents.
Several organizations, including the following, had called on the Iranian government to release him immediately and to respect the rights of journalists and writers.
On January 29, PEN, the international organization of literary writers and editors, reported that Sarkuhi had been detailed again. See the report by clickinghere. You can also read a wire services' article about a letter reportedly sent by Sarkoohi to his wife.
The following is PEN's earlier letter to President Rafsanjani.
Open letter from PEN to President Rafsanjani
We write to express our grave alarm at the increasingly perilous climate facing writers in Iran, as tragically demonstrated by the recent fates of two of our esteemed colleagues, the writer and editor Faraj Sarkoohi and the writer and poet Ghaffar Hosseini.
Faraj Sarkoohi and Ghaffar Hosseini were both signatories to the "1994 Declaration of 134 Iranian Writers," a document that circulated around the globe and called for an end to all censorship of literary endeavor in your country. On September 8, 1996, Sarkoohi and Hosseini were among twelve writers briefly arrested while meeting to sign on to a newly drawn-up mandate for a writers' association. At the same time, the mandate itself, as well as files connected to this initiative, were confiscated by intelligence forces. Then, on November 3, Sarkoohi disappeared while attempting to leave Iran to visit relatives in Germany.
One report suggests he was taken to Tehran's Evin Prison. However, on November 12, the official press insisted that he had indeed left the country in the face of the undeniable fact that he never arrived in Germany. His friends and colleagues view his disappearance gravely, especially in light of the discovery on November 11 of the body of Ghaffar Hosseini. The authorities claim Hosseini suffered a heart attack, despite his never having had any history of heart trouble. Hosseini is not the first signatory of the 1994 Declaration to have met such an end: in October 1995, Ahmad Miralai was found dead in an alley after being interrogated by security officials. Again a "heart attack" was the alleged cause of death, despite contrary indications.
These acts, perpetrated with impunity by faceless agents many believe to be officially sponsored, have aroused the indignation of the international literary community. It is impossible for us to look on while our esteemed colleagues in Iran are struggling to survive in a terrain that is becoming ever more treacherous for them.
We urge you, therefore, to release full information on the whereabouts of Faraj Sarkoohi, and, if he is in the custody of your police or intelligence agencies, to release him forthwith and allow him to travel, as planned, to Germany to rejoin his family. We also request that independent inquiries into the sudden deaths of Ghaffar Hosseini and Ahmad Miralai be conducted and that the results be made public. If it emerges that they did not, after all, die of natural causes, we ask that those responsible for their deaths be brought to justice.
Finally, we state for the record that we hold you and your government responsible for the safety of all writers in Iran who have joined this courageous and timely initiative. They should be applauded, not punished, for their wish to form an independent association, hold meetings and open debates, and express themselves peacefully on any issue of the day. Such efforts can only promote the health of Iranian society. Stifling them is tantamount to steering the country onto a ruinous course, one from which neither governors nor governed can emerge unscathed. If you wish Iran to be a place where prosperity, harmony, and cultural vibrancy meet, then acknowledge your writers, accord them their freedom, and celebrate their work.
We salute the courage of our Iranian colleagues in the face of these terrors. And we alert you to the fact that each deed aimed at silencing them instead adds unlimited resonance to their words.
Edward Albee, Gunter Grass, Eric Hobsbawm, Arthur Miller, Edward Said, Susan Sontag
Author and Editor Faraj Sarkuhi is Arrested in Iran
January 29, 1997 -- PEN American Center today learned that Faraj Sarkuhi, the Iranian writer who reappeared in Tehran on December 20 after a six week disappearance, was formally arrested by Iranian security agents on Monday, January 28.
Faraj Sarkuhi was signatory to the "1994 Declaration of 134 Iranian Writers," a document that circulated around the globe and called for an end to all censorship of literary endeavor in Iran. In August, 1996, Sarkuhi attended a dinner at the home of the cultural attach=82 of the German embassy in Iran, and was among six writers who were arrested and interrogated at that meeting. On September 8, 1996, Sarkuhi was also among twelve writers briefly arrested while meeting to sign on to a newly drawn-up mandate for a writers' association. Then, on November 3, Sarkuhi disappeared while attempting to leave Iran to visit relatives in Germany.
On November 12, the official Iranian press insisted that he had indeed left the country -- in the face of the undeniable fact that he never arrived in Germany. In a letter written to his wife before his disappearance, Sarkuhi stated, "I have no knowledge of the charges [that will be made] against [myself and other Iranian writers], but whatever they will be, and whatever may happen, I want you to know that I have been an innocent victim . . . . In case . . . I am made a victim . . . . I expect you to provide for the children and take good care of yourself. I give my love to you and the children . . ."
On December 20, Faraj Sarkuhi reappeared in Tehran after an international campaign on his behalf. Sarkuhi, like many other ex-political prisoners, must regularly check in with the Iranian authorities. PEN has learned that on Monday, January 28, Sarkuhi failed to return from such a visit, and that his family was told by the authorities that he had been detained. PEN has received one report that Sarukuhi's brother, who was visiting Tehran from another part of Iran, was also detained, and that their mother suffered a heart attack after their arrest. PEN calls on the Iranian government to release Sarkuhi immediately and unconditionally, and to allow him to leave Iran if he wishes.
German daily says it has Sarkuhi's letter
BONN, Germany, Jan 29 - A German newspaper said Wednesday it had obtained a smuggled letter in which an Iranian journalist, missing since he failed to arrive from Tehran in December, said he had been held by Iran's secret service.
The Tageszeitung, in a release ahead of publication on Thursday, said journalist Faraj Sarkuhi wrote that the secret service forced him to pretend he had flown to Germany when he was in fact in detention.
After human rights groups expressed concern that Sarkuhi, editor of the monthly Adineh (Friday), had failed to arrive on a flight to Germany, Tehran media said Iran Air records showed that he had in fact landed.
But the German Foreign Ministry said at the time it believed Sarkuhi was still in Iran and former Iranian president Abolhassan Banisadr said Sarkuhi had never left Iran and was being interrogated by the secret service.
The Tageszeitung said Sarkuhi wrote in his letter that the Iranian secret service tried to force him to work with them and another Iranian was sent to Germany with his passport to have it stamped as proof of his visit.
The Tageszeitung also said it had information that Sarkuhi's mother was told Monday that the secret service had also arrested his brother.
Sarkuhi's wife Farideh Zebarjad, who has received political asylum in Germany, said in December that her husband was one of a group of Iranian writers who were detained when Iranian security forces forced their way into the private apartment of the German cultural attache in Tehran.
She said she feared he was being held as a bargaining chip in the case of four Lebanese and an Iranian being tried in Berlin on suspicion of killing Iranian dissidents.