Witness Statement: Arash Sigarchi
Arash Sigarchi, a journalist and blogger, was arrested in 2004 for his allegedly illegal blogging activities. In this witness statement, he describes his mistreatment and forced confession while in prison during the reform period of President Muhammad Khatami.
Full Name: Arash Sigarchi
Date of Birth: 4 Aban 1357 [October 26, 1978]
Place of Birth: Rasht, Gilan Province
Occupation: Journalist, Former Editor-in-Chief of Gilan-i Imruz
Interviewing Organization: Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC)
Date of Interview: October 23, 2008
This statement has been compiled in 54 paragraphs and 18 pages pursuant to an interview with Arash Sigarchi conducted in Arlington, Virginia on October 23, 2008.
1. My name is Arash Sigarchi. I was born on October, 26 1978 in the city of Rasht, Gilan Provence. I was a journalist and the Editor-in-Chief of a newspaper in Gilan, called Gilan-i Imruz. I was responsible for monitoring the quality of the news and articles that we published. Naturally, censorship exists in Iran, but in 2000 a new trend was introduced where the regime1 shut down a lot of newspapers and weekly journals. This became very costly for the government; if you can imagine, they would shut down 40 newspapers in one day. So they had to come up with a solution to cut costs. They resolved to tame the journalist in hopes of controlling the content of newspapers, and preventing them from writing about “dangerous” topics. Ultimately, such policies prevented journalists from writing freely.
2. Only two newspapers were courageous, Hayat-i Naw and Bahar, which the regime had already shut down. Some newspapers were not closed in that period and survived the mass closure of 40 newspapers. However, they were finally all closed. The reason I say courageous is that after May 1997, with the opening of Jami’i Newspaper, a new form of press was created that did not fear retaliation by the government and provided information defiantly. In fact, I would go a step further and say that it was such newspapers that removed the fear of imprisonment, torture, etc. from the heart of journalists. I myself feared retaliation by the regime but after seeing the example of Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, who always had a bag ready to take with him to prison, my fears disappeared.
3. Back to Hayat-i Naw and Bahar - these two papers survived the closure of April 24, 2000, making them the only newspapers left. Not long had passed when on the 19 of July of the same year, an amendment to the press law was discussed in the Majlis and the leader issued a verdict. Bahar reported the opposing views of some of the Majlis representatives and was shut down the next day. This was after Bahar had managed to stay open for two months after the mass closures. Hayat-i Naw did not fare much better. Although the paper was owned by the [Supreme] Leader’s younger brother, Hadi Khamenei, it was closed after a year. It is noteworthy that the Leader’s younger brother belonged to the reformist group.
4. Under such conditions, I was the Editor-in-Chief of a regional newspaper. It was a quality newspaper with high circulation. However, I received word from Tehran through circulars from the National Security Council, instructing me not to publish certain news. For example if the teachers demonstrated, we were told we shouldn’t publish anything about it. Or if the laborers demonstrated we were told we shouldn’t write about it.
1 Here regime refers to the regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Based on a discourse prevalent amongst officials of the IRI, this term is used instead of the term government. This is due to the complex government structure of Iran. Generally in a lot of other modern countries when you say government you mean the entire governing body of that country. But in Iran, government refers to one of the three branches of power, the executive, legislative and judicial, which function under the supervision of the Supreme Leader. Hence when you talk about Iran, you can’t say the government of Iran because that is part of a whole, while the term regime refers to the Supreme Leader and the three branches of power beneath him.