(Bloomberg Law) -- A federal judge ordered Iran to pay $34.8 million to the family of a journalist and outspoken government critic who was tortured and purportedly committed suicide while living under house arrest in Tehran.

Judge John D. Bates of the US District Court for the District of Columbia awarded $17.4 million in compensatory damages and an equal amount in punitive damages to the wife and daughters of Siamak Pourzand, who spent a decade in Iranian prisons and under home arrest despite pleas for fair treatment and release by international human rights agencies. In an extensive opinion released Friday, Bates held Iran liable for hostage taking and torture under the terrorism exception to sovereign immunity in the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.

“Plaintiffs are entitled to solatium damages for the emotional distress they endured as a result of Siamak’s detention and torture,” Bates wrote. “Plaintiffs’ mental anguish was a ‘reasonably certain’ consequence of Iran’s actions.”

  • In 2002, Pourzand was sentenced to 11 years in prison for several crimes including spying and encouraging others to commit acts of corruption and moral turpitude.
  • Pourzand purportedly committed suicide in 2011, jumping from the balcony of his apartment while living in home detention, but family members maintained he was essentially murdered by Iranian authorities.
  • Bates didn’t find Iran liable on the family’s claim of for “extrajudicial killing,” finding no evidence “Iran directly murdered Siamak” and insufficient evidence to conclude the conditions of his confinement caused him to commit suicide.
  • Bates agreed punitive damages were warranted, writing “Iran’s mistreatment of Siamak was horrific; plaintiffs suffered severe psychological trauma as a result of Iran’s wrongful conduct,” and there is significant need to deter such conduct.
Herischi & Associates LLC represented the family of Pourzand. Iran didn’t present a defense in the case.

The case is Kar v. Islamic Republic of Iran, D.D.C., No. 19-2070, 19-2602, opinion 9/30/22.

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael J. Bologna in Chicago at mbologna@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Nicholas Datlowe at ndatlowe@bloomberglaw.com

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