Nasser Zarafshan

D.o.b: 1946

Profession: Author, translator and barrister

Date of arrest: 7 August 2002

Sentence: Five years’ imprisonment (2 years’ for disseminating state secrets, 3 years’ for the possession of firearms) and seventy lashes for the possession of alcohol.

Expired: 6 August 2007

Professional details: A distinguished member of the Iranian Writers’ Association (Kanoon), the Committee on Serial Killings in Iran and the Iranian Bar Association, Nasser Zarafshan is the legal representative of two of the families of Iranian writers assassinated in November 1998 in what came to be known in Iran as the ‘serial murders’ case. The action against Zarafshan was thought to be both in retribution for his criticism of the official investigation carried out into the murders, and also a means of silencing others who seek the truth behind the killings. On 29 January 2003 the Iranian Supreme Court commuted the death sentences of at least two former secret agents found guilty of the murders.

Details of trial: The Judicial Organisation of Armed Forces (JOAF) brought the original complaint against Zarafshan and arrested him in October 2000. He was then briefly released after a month, pending trial. In February 2002 he was tried behind closed doors by a military court, and was sentenced on 19 March 2002. The presiding judge was also a prosecutor with the JOAF. Zarafshan repeatedly denied the charges against him, asserting that he was simply carrying out his duties as an attorney, and alleging that the weapons and alcohol were planted in his office, which was reportedly searched while he was in detention. On 6 April 2002 he reportedly told the Iranian Students News Agency that he would appeal against the sentence and demand a retrial, adding that ‘the Armed Forces’ Judicial Department does not have the competence to investigate charges against civilians.’ However, his sentence was upheld by an appeals court on 16 July 2002. 

Place of detention: Evin Prison, Tehran

Health Concerns: Zarafshan was reported to be in poor health during his time in prison. In June 2005, he was on hunger strike.

Other: Recipient of American PEN’s 2004 Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award.

Release: Zarafshan was released on 17 March 2007 after serving his five year sentence.


Honorary member: Norwegian, Canadian, Swedish and English PEN Centres


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