In 1979, as the Islamist takeover in Iran aimed to scrub Western influence from the culturally rich country, Siamak Pourzand was highly regarded as one of Iran's best known film critics. As an Iranian journalist on the American beat, he covered the funeral of John F. Kennedy and interviewed Richard Nixon. Covering Hollywood put his job on the chopping block when the ayatollah came to power and cultural scions became a target.
Pourzand filled the role of a key opposition voice, writing articles critical of the regime for reformist newspapers. He was abducted by state security forces in 2001 and put on a private "trial" while denied legal representation in which he was sentenced to 11 years in prison and 74 lashes, which naturally made human-rights organizations cry foul, for an array of charges including “spying and undermining state security” and “links with monarchists and counter-revolutionaries.”
"He is considered by many to be the father of Iranian Cinema; I can go on and on," his daughter, Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi, wrote me in November 2004. "Now, this man sat in the hellhole solitary prisons of the filthy Mullahs for 492 days."
He was kept in the basement of the notorious Evin prison, which the regime keeps stocked with dissidents and journalists.
Riddled with health problems as the victim of ill treatment, as confirmed by Amnesty International, Pourzand was transferred to house arrest in 2006. On April 29, 2011, the 80-year-old, banned from leaving the country (as an eyewitness to the crimes of the regime within the prisons) and separated from his family, committed suicide by jumping off his sixth-floor balcony in Tehran.
"We hold the Iranian authorities responsible for this gesture of despair," Reporters Without Borders said in a statement afterward. "Pourzand’s death is a reminder that the Iranian regime is one of the most violent in the world for journalists."
The regime even refused to hand over Pourzand's body for burial; once they gave in, they limited the eulogizing at his memorial service and stocked the crowed with state agents who confiscated cell phones of the attendees.
Pourzand was a secularist who believed in his beloved Iran so much that he wouldn't leave the country when he had the chance, when he knew he'd be a target for standing up for freedom. His family said that his spirits were buoyed by the 2009 Green Movement pro-democracy demonstrations, then were crushed by the regime's brutal repression of the peaceful protests.
His death was a sober reminder of how many Iranians whose lives were turned upside down in 1979 may not live to see a free, democratic Iran. It was also a reminder of how the work of the Arab Spring is far from over as freedom remains elusive for the activists' Persian counterparts.