Siamak Pourzand was born into a family of royalty, military officials and artists in Tehran, the capital of Iran, in September 1931. After running away from the military school several times, he eventually pursued journalism as a profession. At the age of 18 he joined forces with Dr. Houshang Kavousi, a prominent film critic, to launch the first cine club in Iran. This initiative later evolved into film festivals and other such events. A young and zealous supporter of Mohammad Mossadegh, Pourzand began his career in journalism with the newspaper Bakhtar Emrooz in 1952.
In the 1960s and 70s, Pourzand worked as the U.S. correspondent for Keyhan, one of Iran’s most prominent national newspapers at the time. Some of his notable assignments as a correspondent in the U.S. included covering the funeral of John F. Kennedy as well as interviewing Richard Nixon. He also reported on Hollywood and interviewed many cinema stars such as Alfred Hitchcock, Anthony Quinn and Kim Novak. A founding member of the Writer’s Syndicate, Pourzand initiated several exchange programs for artists and journalists from Iran and other parts of the world including Asian and European countries.
After the Islamic Revolution of 1979
Following the Islamic Revolution of 1979, like many others, Pourzand lost his job at Keyhan, was detained twice and put in solitary confinement. Pourzand’s persecution was essentially due to his success during the Pahlavi era and his anti-revolutionary records. Ultimately, after many years of living in post-revolutionary Iran without permission to work, Pourzand resumed his career as the editor-in-chief of professional journals across various fields including medical charity associations and engineering syndicates in the 1990s.
During the Iranian reform movement in the late 1990s, Pourzand resumed his original work and consultation in mainstream and professional journalism. A regular commentator for Iranian diaspora radios in the U.S. and Europe, he reported live from the funerals of Dariush and Parvaneh Eskandari Forouhar in Tehran, who were stabbed to death during Iran’s 1998 Chain Murders by the hardliner fractions of the country’s intelligence service. He also became the arts and culture advisor to the touristic island of Kish located in the south of Iran. In 2000 Pourzand became the manager of the Majmu-ye Farhangi Honari-ye Tehran, a cultural center for writers, artists, and intellectuals.
Abduction and Imprisonment
Pourzand’s nuanced and innovative activities in the promotion of arts, journalism and culture along with his fame and success in the Pahlavi era made him a target in the Islamic Republic. In particular, the hardliner elite, who had vowed to eliminate any glimpse of creativity and free expression, did everything in their power and beyond to stop Pourzand’s activities. Ultimately, on 24 November 2001 Pourzand was abducted by anonymous members of Amaken, agents of the Committee for Propagation of Virtue and the Prohibition of Vice, from outside his sister’s house in Tehran. Not having been presented with an arrest warrant, he was held in a series of clandestine detention facilities. Meanwhile the official State Prisons Organization of the Islamic Republic of Iran was repeatedly stating that Pourzand was not held in their custody.
His only family member in Tehran at the time was his older sister, late Mahin Pourzand, an ill 85-year-old woman, who faced disrespect and threats every time she inquired about her brother’s whereabouts. Even after he was transferred to Evin Prison, his family was never told about his whereabouts in the initial months of abduction.
After months of detention under inhumane conditions and torturous interrogative techniques, 73 year-old Pourzand was trialed behind closed doors and was granted no access to legal representation of his choice. His charges included threatening and acting against the national security of the Islamic Republic; a charge commonly used to shut down advocates, journalists, artists, lawyers and others alike in today’s Iran. Prior to his trial, Pourzand had told his family residing in North America during a brief and monitored phone conversation “consider me dead.”
Pourzand was sentenced to 11 years of imprisonment with pending charges to be processed at a later stage. Shortly after his trial in 2002, having lost almost half of his weight and looking fragile, traumatized and terrified, Pourzand was brought on Islamic TV and was made to participate in a televised forced confession. His confessions included fabricated statements about his life, work, family, colleagues and friends. The authorities used Pourzand’s forced confessions to detain other journalists, authors, and active reformists.
While in prison, Pourzand’s health severely deteriorated due to difficult prison conditions, torture and old age. With limited access to medical facilities, his health problems reached a climax when he experienced a major heart attack in April 2004. Highlighting the arbitrary nature of the arrest and deteriorating health condition, many international organizations including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the United Nations and Western authorities pressured the Islamic Republic to free Siamak Pourzand. Eventually, Pourzand was put under house arrest without permission to leave the country and joining his family abroad. His family could not go back as they were also targets of the Islamic Republic.
His wife, Mehrangiz Kar, is an internationally renowned lawyer, author, women’s rights, and human rights advocate. A former political prisoner in Iran, she found herself in exile in the U.S. in 2001 when initiating various international campaigns to save her husband’s life in Iran. Pourzand’s other family members residing in the West were also similarly the targets of the Islamic Republic. His youngest daughter, Azadeh, went to Iran once in 2006 for only a few days on a trip, highly monitored by the intelligence service of the Islamic Republic, to see her ill father under house arrest. She was able to see her father for a few days, but was threatened by Iranian authorities not to publicly speak of her father’s worrying condition.
Even though deeply nostalgic and lonely in his family’s absence, Pourzand persistently refused to leave the country illegally, stating that he had done nothing wrong to escape from the land he so patriotically loved. He always used to insist on remaining in Iran and patiently awaiting the formation of a truth and reconciliation commission where he could testify to the injustice that he and many others had undergone.
Shirin Ebadi’s Message for Siamak Pourzand
Having tolerated years of injustice, isolation and illness for a better Iran, Pourzand became increasingly preoccupied with the future of younger generations who experienced much repression, violence and dismay in light of the Green Movement of 2009. Pourzand’s passion for helping and fostering the future generations of Iranian artists, authors and journalists was unstoppable. Since his youth, he used every possible personal and professional opportunity to connect creative minds to one another and to create an environment in which they could collaboratively grow.
When he felt he cannot wait and watch the worsening repression in Iran any longer, Pourzand, who was still under house arrest, took his own life on 29 April 2011. He jumped from the balcony of his apartment in Tehran. His suicide was widely covered by Iranian diaspora and international media throughout the world as a symbolic gesture for all those who struggle against repression, censorship and lack of freedom of expression in today’s Iran and beyond. He left, but his legacy remains; to aspire and to work tirelessly towards freedom of expression.
Family and Legacy
Pourzand’s widow (Mehrangiz Kar), their daughters (Leily Pourzand and Azadeh Pourzand) and his son-in-law (Dr. Mehrdad Hariri) live in exile in North America. Pourzand’s daughter from his first marriage (Banafsheh Zand) and his brother (Lohrasseb Pourzand), a former high ranking military official, have also lived in exile for many years.
None of Siamak Pourzand’s family members could return to Iran for his funeral in May 2011. In fact, his funeral in Tehran was strictly monitored by the intelligence services and a cameraman present at the cemetery was also arrested that day.
Growing up in Iran, Pourzand’s youngest daughter, Azadeh, had the opportunity to closely watch her father work tirelessly to promote freedom of expression through professional journalism, arts and culture in the 1990s. Thanks to her father, she was exposed to Iran’s prominent circles of old and young journalists, authors, artists and critics in her teenage years and became closely acquainted with the struggles of creative minds working under censorship in Iran. Years later, Azadeh realized the exposure to Iran’s contemporary arts and culture was the most precious gift that her father left behind for her. Through the creation of the Siamak Pourzand Foundation (SPF), Azadeh hopes to continue the legacy of her father in a small way.