Dear Dr. Saidi Sirjani:

For almost 20 years now, I have known and admired you and your writings. Whatever your detractors may say, Ali Akbar Saidi Sirjani cannot justly be accused of partisanship. I have known you as a fierce critic of Mohammad Reza Shah’s insufferable pretensions and intolerance of dissent, and later as an equally sharp thorn in the side of the Islamic government. May the nib of your pen never be blunted!

Since your arrest in mid-March by agents of the anti-vice department of the Islamic Revolutionary Prosecutor’s Office, many of your supporters have written to the Iranian authorities on your behalf: to protest, plead or simply ask for information about your health and intended fate — so far, to no avail. It probably does little good that most of these well-wishers live abroad; in depressingly familiar fashion, having ties with foreigners is on the long list of outrageous charges that you face.

I would not be surprised if you have smoked opium from time to time; it would be unusual for an Iranian intellectual, especially one who hailed from Kerman, not to have done so. But the rest of the charges, such as having been a SAVAK agent under the Shah and receiving large sums of money from anti-revolutionary groups abroad are patently absurd. On June 2, Keyhan, directly controlled by your nemesis Ayatollah Khamenei, published what it purports to be your handwritten confession. Extracting “confessions” and then using them as the main evidence in court have long been standard procedure in Iran; in this respect, the revolution changed nothing. In your case, though, it seems as if those who run the Intelligence Ministry — the intellectual counterparts of the bazaar chomagh bedast (club wielders) — could not in fact get you to write the confession yourself. To be condemned by someone else’s hand masquerading as your own is a bitter irony that you, as a writer who specialized in such twists, just might appreciate.

Everyone who is following your case knows that the reason you are now suffering in jail is that you incurred the wrath of Ali Khamenei — the Leader, Guide and aspirant to be the next Source of Emulation (marja‘-i taqlid). Maybe your sardonic open letters to the Leader, daring the regime to arrest you or else explain why all your books are banned, were a little provocative. But many who have lately been cowed into silence, from all parts of the political spectrum, including former regime supporters, quietly applauded your courage. If only one percent of those who snapped up Zahak-e Mardosh (Zahak the Snakeman) or Dar Astin-e Moraqqa (In the Tattered Sleeve) would express their dismay, the sacks of letters in the mail room at the Majles would make a statement about public opinion that could not be ignored by even the most hardline supporter of the Leader.

The dark hole into which you disappeared more than six months ago, after being seized on the streets of Tehran along with Said Niazi-Kermani, your publisher, is a matter of great concern to your friends and relatives. No one, not even your wife Mehrangiz or your daughters, has seen you or has reliable information as to where you are being held, and under what conditions. Said Rajaee-Khorasani told the PEN American Center in early July that you had been moved to a house and were writing your memoirs! But since he lost his position this summer as head of the Majles’ Foreign Affairs Committee, Rajaee-Khorasani is himself rapidly becoming a non-person. Perhaps his assurances were what he would like to see happen.

The extraordinary lengths to which the authorities have gone to keep you isolated have raised the awful question as to whether you are still alive. As a man of 62 and of uncertain health, the question must be asked. Though I would like to believe that, like the Missing Imam, you have simply gone into occlusion, and will return to us one day soon — your humor and intelligence as undiminished as ever.

Yours, in friendship and solidarity,

Andrew Whitley

How to cite this article:

Andrew Whitley "An Open Letter to a Jailed Iranian Writer," Middle East Report 191 (November/December 1994).

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