New York City, May 3, 2011—PEN American Center joined with free expression champions around the world today in mourning the death of journalist and critic Siamak Pourzand, who reportedly committed suicide on Friday following years of house arrest in his apartment in Tehran. Speaking today on behalf of the organization’s board and membership, PEN American Center President Kwame Anthony Appiah paid tribute to Pourzand’s “heroic, decades-long struggle for press freedom in Iran,” calling the 80-year-old journalist’s suicide “devastating evidence of the human toll of years of inhuman repression” and “a tragedy that should stir reflection and action both inside and outside Iran.”

“Our thoughts today are with Mr. Pourzand’s wife, the brave human rights lawyer Merhangiz Kar, with his daughters, and with the thousands of families in Iran that have borne the brunt of a regime that again and again shows itself willing to terrorize its own people,” Appiah said. “At a time when men and women are finding their voices and crying out for dignity and basic rights throughout the region, Pourzand’s despair offers a disturbing measure of how arrested and isolated the Iranian regime now seems. We honor his life’s work, we mourn this terrible loss, and we stand with all those who have endured so much in the struggle for freedom of expression and fundamental human rights in Iran.”

A journalist and cultural critic whose career spanned half a century, Siamak Pourzand was abducted by Iranian authorities in November 2001, held for months in secret detention, where he was interrogated and tortured, and finally tried and sentenced in May 2002 to an 11-year prison term for “undermining state security through his links with monarchists and counter-revolutionaries.” With his health failing, he was eventually released on medical parole, but was barred from traveling outside of Iran to visit his wife and daughters and has remained under house arrest in Tehran. He reportedly committed suicide by leaping from the balcony of his apartment on April 29, 2011. Pourzand was an Honorary Member of PEN American Center, PEN Canada, and the Norwegian PEN Center.

“Last week, PEN American Center honored Nasrin Sotoudeh, the brave journalist and human rights lawyer condemned earlier this year to an 11-year prison term, and heard from her husband how Iranian authorities, not satisfied with locking her up, have denied her all means of writing in her prison cell,” Appiah said today. “The news of Siamak Pourzand’s tragic death should make the world reflect that such actions are far from incidental cruelties. They are part of a regime that is designed to break people. This is what silencing is, and what it does, and no government that treats its citizens this way can claim legitimacy.”

PEN American Center is the largest of the 145 centers of International PEN, the world’s oldest human rights organization and the oldest international literary organization. The Freedom to Write Program of PEN American Center works to protect the freedom of the written word wherever it is imperiled. It defends writers and journalists from all over the world who are imprisoned, threatened, persecuted, or attacked in the course of carrying out their profession. For more information on PEN’s work, please visit

Larry Siems, (212) 334-1660 ext. 105
Sarah Hoffman, (212) 334-1660 ext. 111