Journalist; academic; writer; political analyst; board member for the Journalists' Union of Iran; worked for newspapers including Ettela’at, Hamshahri, and Sobh-e Emrooz; editor-in-chief of the monthly publication, Iran-e Farda and Azad newspaper; Ph.D. in international relations from Tehran University.
Acting against national security
Disturbing public opinion
Spreading propaganda against the holy Islamic Republic
six years in prison and five years in exile
Date of Birth
"We were waiting for Ahmad to be released on May 21 after six years in prison, but now they say they will take him to exile from prison. We feel so oppressed"
Ahmad Zeidabadi was sentenced to six years in prison and five years in exile in December 2009 for his work as a journalist. Having served his full sentence, it was hoped that upon his release on May 21, 2015, he would be free to live in peace. However, two days before his sentence was due to finish, his wife Mehdieh Mohammadi posted on Facebook that he was being sent directly from prison to exile in Gonabad, northwestern Iran.
“We were waiting for Ahmad to be released on May 21 after six years in prison, but now they say they will take him to exile from prison. We feel so oppressed,” she wrote.
However, on July 23, 2015, Zeidabadi was released while on a break in Tehran to visit his family. The authorithies reportedly informed the family by phone that Zeidabadi didn’t have to return to Gonabad.
Zeidabadi was arrested on June 21, 2009, just a few days after the disputed presidential election. It was the third time he had been arrested. For 141 days, he was kept in solitary confinement before being transferred to communal wards 209 and 240 of Evin Prison. He remained at Evin until February 2010, when he was sent to the notorious Rajaei Shahr Prison in Karaj, near Tehran. The transfer was never legally justified.
According to a report by Amnesty International, the first time his wife was allowed to visit him in Evin Prison was on August 17, 2014. She said afterwards that he was in an extremely weak physical and emotional state and that he had said that he had been held in solitary confinement for 35 days following his arrest, kept in a coffin-like cell only one and a half meters long. For 17 days, Zeidabadi was on hunger strike until doctors convinced him to stop.
The next time his wife saw Zeidabadi was in mid-September, when he told her he was being severely beaten during interrogations. In an interview with Radio Farda on September 23, she said his interrogator had told him, “We’re ordered to crush you, and if you don’t cooperate we can do anything we want to you. And if you don’t fill out the interrogation papers, we’ll force you to eat them.”
During his time at Evin, the court agreed on two occasions to release him on bail. However, prison authorities refused on both times to honor the court’s decision, so he remained behind bars.
His trial took place in December 2009 at Branch 29 of the Revolutionary Court presided by Judge Pir Abbasi, who sentenced him to six years in prison and five years in exile. He was also given a lifelong ban on engaging in political activities and practicing journalism.
Zeidabadi, who has a Ph.D. in international relations from Tehran University, began working as a journalist in 1989 when he worked for Ettela’at, a national newspaper. Then in 1992, when Gholam Hossein Karbaschi, the reformist mayor of Tehran, founded Hamshahri newspaper, Zeidabadi moved to that publication.
When Mohammad Khatami was elected president in 1997, reformist publications were able to operate more freely. It was during this time that Zeidabadi’s career flourished and he became one of the most well respected pro-reform journalists in Iran.
But, shortly afterwards, hardliners kicked back and began to muzzle reformist media organizations. It was not long before Zeidabadi was summoned to court but when he failed to appear on time, Saeed Mortazavi, then-prosecutor of Tehran, ordered his arrest on July 28, 2000. He spent a total of two months in solitary confinement at Evin Prison before being transferred to a ward for drug offenders. He then spent another five months in a ward for common criminals. During his time in detention, he went on hunger strike for two weeks. He was eventually released on February 28, 2001.
But his freedom did not last long. On March 13, 2001, he was detained once again during a wave of arrests targeted at reformists. However, the then-speaker of the Iranian parliament, Mehdi Karroubi, denounced his arrest, so he was freed.
In 2003, he was tried by the Revolutionary Court presided over by Judge Mortazavi, who sentenced him to 23 months in prison for “activities against the regime.” The appeals court reduced his sentence to 13 months in prison. He was also banned from engaging in “social activities” or doing journalism for five years.
Then, in April 2007, he wrote an open and widely circulated letter to the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, which many believe is the cause of his arrest. In the letter, which is directly addressed to Khamenei, he asked what the legal and logical explanation was for stopping someone from questioning or criticizing the Leader and said that media organizations in other countries were allowed to freely criticize their leaders. Zeidabadi also pointed out that Iranian state television had covered protests in the United States that were in opposition to the George W. Bush administration.
In the latter part of the letter, Zeidabadi criticized how the Islamic Republic handled its nuclear program and the resulting standoff between Iran and the international community. He wrote, “in any event, the fact of the matter is that many Iranians see the current nuclear crisis, and the whole of the country’s circumstances, differently to how the Supreme Leader does. They’re scared of what the country’s future holds! Are they supposed to hold back those fears? If they don’t hold them back, should our respected Minister of Intelligence go around threatening them?”
During his third detention, interrogators treated him more harshly because of this letter and he was told he had to apologize to Ayatollah Khamenei because he had failed to address him as the “exalted leader.”
Another cause for his arrest was his affiliation to Mehdi Karroubi, the former reformist president, who is currently under house arrest.
During his incarceration, Zeidabadi was given just one furlough, which lasted two days, on March 4, 2012.
While in prison, Zeidabadi received two international awards for his attempts to uphold freedom of speech. On December 17, 2009, he won the World Association of Newspapers’ Golden Pen of Freedom Award for 2010.
“All journalists are aware of the dangers of challenging the autocratic regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the actions of Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei," the board of the Association said in announcing the award. "Mr. Zeidabadi has chosen to repeatedly brave them and publicly support reform and the rule of law in Iran.” He “has refused to give in, despite the horrific conditions in which he is being held, and his courage makes us feel very humble.”
In 2011, he became the winner of the Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize, which is awarded by UNESCO. The “choice of Ahmad Zeidabadi pays a tribute to his exceptional courage, resistance and commitment to freedom of expression, democracy, human rights, tolerance, and humanity,” said the jury president Diana Senghor upon announcing the decision.
UNESCO’s Director-General Irina Bokova said, “Throughout his career Ahmad Zeidabadi has courageously and unceasingly spoken out for press freedom and freedom of expression, which is a fundamental human right that underpins all other civil liberties, a key ingredient of tolerant and open societies and vital for the rule of law and democratic governance.”