The Death of Sattar Beheshti, Dissident Blogger, in Iranian Police Custody

Not particularly well known, he was arrested for an anti-regime post.

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A screenshot of Beheshti's blog. (RFE/RL)

Before he was arrested last month, 35-year-old Iranian blogger Sattar Beheshti wrote that he had been warned against expressing his anti-regime views. "They threatened me yesterday and said, 'Your mother will soon wear black because you don't shut your big mouth,'" he wrote. On October 28, according to available information, Beheshti was arrested at his home in Rabat Karim, a town southwest of the Iranian capital, by members of Iran's cyber police -- the year-old force that was created to crack down on online crime. On November 6, police officials informed his family that he was dead. They told the family to collect his body from the Kahrizak detention center -- the same place where at least three detainees were said to have died under torture during the crackdown that followed President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's disputed 2009 reelection.

The Democracy ReportBeheshti, who has been described as a simple worker and the breadwinner for his family, was apparently taken into custody for what he wrote online. However, he appears to have been a minor figure in the blogosphere, because several prominent bloggers contacted by RFE/RL said he was not known. Beheshti's sister told the opposition website Kalame, "They summoned my husband, told him to prepare [our] mother. 'Buy a grave. Come to get the body tomorrow.' That's all." She said authorities told her husband that Beheshti had been ill, although her brother was healthy and had not been suffering from any illness. And she said authorities had warned the family not to give media interviews about what happened.

But three online news sites have looked into the case. Kalame, which has ties to opposition leader Mir Hossein Musavi, reported that Beheshti's fellow prisoners said he was physically tortured during interrogations. "Political prisoners in Section 350 of Evin Prison, where Beheshti spent one night, said his body had been crushed under torture and that there wasn't a healthy spot on his body," it said.

The opposition Sahamnews website, which is aligned with reformist cleric Mehdi Karrubi, also reported that Beheshti had died under torture by security officials. The website said Beheshti had been jailed in the past for his criticism of the Iranian establishment.

And the Baztab Emrooz website, said to be close to senior Iranian politician and former Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps commander Mohsen Rezai, also reported that Beheshti died during interrogation. "The unfortunate death of this young man is likely because of negligence or error on the part of those involved in his case," the website said.

The arrest of Beheshti, a minor figure in the Iranian blogosphere, could be a sign of increased scrutiny by the cyberpolice of Iranian citizens' online activities. The reports of his death under torture -- which cannot be independently confirmed -- have prompted fresh concern over the treatment of prisoners in the Islamic republic.

Several Iranian political prisoners have died in custody in recent years, including Canadian/Iranian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, who reportedly died from beatings sustained under interrogation in Evin prison.

Drewery Dyke, an Iran researcher with Amnesty International, said there needs to be an open and transparent investigation into Beheshti's death in custody: "While recognizing that death in custody takes place in many, many different countries for many, many different reasons and in contexts where there is no foul play, unfortunately in the Iranian context, be it with Zahra Kazemi, be it with women detainees held in recent years and in light of the recent hunger strike undertaken by women protesting against forms of ill treatment -- sexual ill treatment that they faced --  it really calls into question what exactly is happening in Iranian prisons." British Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt has also called on Iranian authorities to provide an explanation.

Iran has long ignored calls for independent investigations into the death of its prisoners, but Baztab Emrooz reported that a group of lawmakers is planning to summon police officials to parliament over the matter.

Beheshti's body has not been yet delivered to his family.



This post appears courtesy of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

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