A Role Model for Many Iranian Intellectuals

Roshanak Daryoush, Iranian translator and writer, died in early November in German exile. The organisation "Writers in Prison" raised awareness for her case, as it did for many other Iranian writers. Peter Philipp reports

Her feelings towards her home country were ambivalent: Although Roshanak Daryoush spent much of her childhood in Germany, she remained attached to Iran, the land where she was born. Later however, that relation to her home country become more and more difficult.

Daryoush’s parents had left Iran during the reign of the Shah. After Reza was overthrown in the 1979-revolution, Roshanak Daryoush went back to Iran, with a German Political Science Degree – and with great hopes for the future. But soon she found that the new rulers were hardly any better than the old ones: they too did not want a more liberal society.

Choosing to fight, choosing to stay

However, Roshanak Daryoush did not join the disenchanted intellectuals who had once shared the same dream but then disappointedly went back into exile. She decided to stay. Earning a humble living as a translator, she became a vocal lobbyist for the founding of an Iranian Writers Association, and soon caught the attention of the new government. She was imprisoned various times and received anonymous threats – during a time when numerous Iranian writers were killed.

Three years ago, while in Germany on a fellowship from the Writers Association P.E.N., she took part in a conference on Iran of another German Association, the Heinrich-Böll foundation. Iranian writers who attended the conference, including her husband Khalil Rostamkhani, were imprisoned upon their return to Iran. One was even sentenced to death.

Trying to raise awareness of Iranian writers’ plight

Since Daryoush couldn’t return to Iran, Karin Clark from the German Committee of “Writers in Prison” started to take care of her – and some 20 other Iranian writers who were forced to stay in Germany. Karin Clark and her colleagues keep on trying to raise awareness in Germany about the writer’s plight. They also appeal to Iranian politicians:

“We have never received any sort of direct response to any of our appeals”, says Clark. “A response may come, though, in form of shorter prison terms, early release or improved conditions. The Iranians are only open to dialogue when the regime believes it serves their purposes. In other words, when they want to give the impression that they are not completely oblivious to human rights.”

Arbitrary arrests

The reason why Iranian writers are imprisoned is hardly ever for one specific article or text. Instead, they are charged with treason and of being in contact with illegal opposition groups.

“What could you call that, other than arbitrary”, Karin Clark asks. “We had cases where a woman was sentenced to four years in prison. But she was able to leave in order to start cancer therapy. The moment she left, her husband was imprisoned and in his case this is very sad, because he is more 70 years old and seriously sick himself.”

In Iran, there is no such thing as a reliable legal system

Cases like his, says Clark, clearly show that there is no such thing as a fair and reliable legal system. And the situation is made even more difficult by the fact that different types of courts exist, some of which openly act against the reform-oriented government of President Khatami. But Clark is still convinced that associations like P.E.N. mustn’t stop trying to exert the influence they have.

For Roshank Daryoush, these attempts come too late. Last week, she died to a severe illness in a Munich hospital – without having seen her home country Iran again.

Peter Philipp

© Deutsche Welle

Translated from German: Kerstin Steinbrecher

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