Iran News ...


5/16/03

The Effects of Iraq war on Iran: Pressures have increased

By Masoud Behnoud, Tehran
Translated by Roya Monajem

After the military attack of the Coalition forces on Iraq, Islamic Government of Iran is taking it harder on the opposition; a greater number of university students and writers are imprisoned and compelled to confess in contrived trials; students' gatherings are perturbed more violently and frequently; political activists are re-arrested and newspapers supervised by clergies speak of the foundation of a suicidal group with the goal of attacking Americans and Israelis, and the public media, again supervised by the same extremist clergies, broadcast news on Iraqi resistance against American forces whilst Internet sites and web logs initiated by dissident Iranian youths are carrying the whole task of public media and struggle against the conservative clergy all alone.

According to a European diplomat living in Tehran, Iranian people who succeeded in overthrowing the powerful regime of Shah supported by 65 thousand American advisors and the greatest and most well-equipped army in the Middle East using audio tapes and SW radios in 1979 have begun an 'Internet Revolution' this time. A revolution that is making as much trouble for the extremist clergy as it did for Shah's regime.

The presence of forty thousand Iranian youth who have started Internet sites and web logs both in Persian and English languages informing each other about the situation in universities and streets, ignoring serious censorship ruling the air, is growing incessantly. There are two hundred thousands young people getting connected to each other through these sites. According to an article written by a man calling himself Khosro, writing indignant articles against ecclesiastics everyday, "At nights, every light that is on in Tehran shows that somebody is sitting behind a computer, driving through information roads; and that is in fact a storehouse of gun powder that, if ignited, will start a great firework in the capital of the revolutionary Islam."

The articles posted moment to moment on internet sites and web logs that connect young dissident civilians through an invisible thread, reveal the untold news about corruption among clergies and their children, Mafia-like nets of power and homicide, interrogators who kill dissidents by the order of high authorities and the like, in an exaggerated way characteristic of countries ruled by censorship.

This information that is spread on the next day by the words of mouths in taxis and universities, persuades people to buy a Malaysian or Chinese made computer costing around $1200 in Iranian Market that will give them the chance to personally connect to Internet.

The use of Internet, that until recently was not that much accessible to Iranian users unfamiliar with English language and now by the virtue of Microsoft services and Iranian computer programmers that have managed to add Persian letters to the system, is increasing in an incredible rate, and is happening at the time when the Conservatives started to close down all the channels of news dissemination five years ago and actively planned to make access to satellite TV programs impossible too.

To prevent the fall of the country, ninety reformist newspapers were closed down three years ago, by the decision of Ayatolah Khamenei, the leader of Islamic Republic. Simultaneously, the best known journalists and writers, twelve in number, were arrested. Among them was Akbar Ganji who had revealed the secrets of the assassination of dissidents inside and outside the country and the role of Hashemi Rafsanjani, the powerful man of Islamic republic in them. Ganji spent the thousandth day of his sentence last week. Not only Ganji refused to confess to the court, but in a long article written in jail and sent out secretly to be published on Internet he wrote about his new views that required the expulsion of the clergies from the government; a view that the reformists still fear to admit openly.

As the result of this continuous assault upon the newspapers, Islamic Republic was declared to be the worst country for journalists by the international institutions in the year 2000, and the leader of Islamic Republic was introduced as the greatest enemy of freedom of speech in the whole world.

Ganji's "Republican Manifest" published on an Internet site that had published the journal of Ayatolah Montazeri - the loftiest dissident clergy of Islamic Republic -before, has enjoyed the greatest number of visitors so far. Unofficial statistics show that five hundred thousands prints were made of Ganji's Manifest inside and outside of Iran.

In addition to extensive newspaper bans and arrest of journalists, the Islamic Republic banned the use of satellite dishes through a parliamentary bill approved six years ago, and the charge for their possession not only included more than two and a half thousand dollars fine and confiscation of all the equipment, but it could also entail imprisonment. So far two hundred thousands houses have been attacked for this reason, but unofficial statistic show that there are nearly 150 thousands satellite dishes working secretly only in Tehran and out of every three houses in the north district of Tehran, one possesses a satellite dish whose users not only find access to hundred s of free ordinary TV channels, but also to eleven Persian channels run by different opposition groups that mainly comprise Iranian immigrants living in Los Angeles. Nevertheless it is mostly news networks such as CNN, BBC world that has freed Iranians from watching the Islamic Republic television and its selected censored news.

Last month it was revealed that the Ministry of Telecommunication has actually not been the source of the interfering waves making it impossible for the satellite users in the north of Tehran to have access to certain channels, and that the government actually plays no role in it; but everybody knows the source, and even the report on how dangerous and malignant these waves can be for the inhabitants of the north of Tehran has had no effects as they receive their orders from the extremist clergies who apparently fear no one.

Speeches arranged by the university students and presented by Reformist speakers to discuss national and international issues that were attracting many audience in recent years have come to a standstill due to the severe conflicts they instigated in a few cities of the country as the result of the assault of hired Hezbolah groups upon the speakers, who later were summoned to the court and arrested by the order of the clergies on the charge of the disclosing nature of their speeches. The news of these conflicts was broadcasted throughout the world. The last and most extreme attempt in this regard was the arrest and life sentence of the university professor Hashem Aghajari on the charge of a speech he presented in Hamedan University criticizing religious despotism. In many religious cities, the conservatives arranged demonstrations broadcasted widely by national television and supported by their official newspapers demanding execution of Hashem Aghajari, one of the heroes of the war with Iraq who also lost his leg in that war. Nevertheless, the students have succeeded so far to prevent his execution through their wide counter-demonstrations, and Hashem Aghajari won this year's international prize of struggle for freedom of press, presented by the international institute of Index and Censorship.

The other way that the anti-cleric political activists have found is writing letters to the leaders of the country that are simultaneously broadcasted through Internet and world media. Mohsen Sazgara, an ex-deputy of one of the ministries was arrested on the charge of writing a letter to Ayatolah Khamenei and was only released on an incredibly high bail due to the heart attack he suffered in the prison. In a letter that immediately won world wide fame for Ghasem Sholeh Sadii, the attorney on law, he called the leader of Islamic Republic inefficient due to repeated violations of freedom and human rights in the country; however on his arrival to Tehran, he was arrested at the airport and was released temporarily from the prison after two months on the condition to stay silent. The last one of this group Abas Amir Entezam, the ex- deputy of the Prime Minister, was sent to prison last week on the charge of writing a letter on the occasion of the New Year in which he had asked people to attend the referendum held in presence of UN inspectors to show their disapproval of Islamic Republic. Amir Entezam, nick named as Iranian Nelson Mandela, has spent twenty years in prison on the invented charge of having relations with American diplomats.

The other avenue that showed people's extensive discontent toward the rule of clergy was the independent polling institutions; three of such institutions, engaged by the reformist Members of the Parliament, revealed that the majority of the inhabitants of Tehran while criticizing Washington's decisions regard the enmity with Washington quite baseless and unfounded. In his speech, Ayatolah Khamenei rejected their poll as fake which immediately led to the arrest of the managers of the above institutions by the order of the head of the juridical power, whom accidentally is appointed by the leader of Islamic Republic. After three months of imprisonment in a solitary cell, Behrouz Geranpayeh and Hussein Ghazian, both experts in social researches, confessed to their crime and called the poll baseless and fake. They received eight years of sentence, but the court agreed to release them temporarily, while Abas Abdi, the talented reformist journalist and the third accused member of this group, has defended himself despite spending his life in a solitary cell for the past six months, completely deprived of his lawful right to see his lawyer and family. In his first trial, he was sentenced to nine years of imprisonment and in another trial, held behind the closed doors where no journalist or defending attorney were allowed to participate, he was accused of possessing top secret documents in his house and was sent back to his solitary cell.

Abas Abdi is one of the students that held 50 Americans as hostage for 444 days after occupation of American Embassy in 1979 and released them only after their action led to Carter's defeat in the Presidency election of that year. Four years ago, in a meeting held in Paris, Abdi apologized to Barry Rozen, his hostage, and that provoked extremist groups and clergies to call his act contemptuous and an infamy to Islamic Revolution. Before his arrest, Abdi as one of the most active reformist journalist had asked President Khatami and the rest of reformist members of the government to resign collectively from the government and parliament and by creating a crisis force the leaders of Islamic Republic to realize how critical the situation is and that they better surrender to people's demands. Symbolically Abid's arrest took place on the anniversary of occupation of American Embassy.

The extent of arrests and suppression imposed by extremist clerics on their opponents is not limited to journalists and political activists, and the number of students' representatives arrested after each protest is increasing daily. Last week, Ahmad Batebi, studying drama at the time of his arrest, was finally allowed to leave the prison for five days, after five years of imprisonment, to receive medical treatment, on the sole condition to decline interviews with any newspaper, news agency or radio and television network. Following the students' uprising of 1998 in Tehran when Batebi's photograph was published on the cover of Economist magazine, he was condemned to death sentence in an emergency court, but his verdict was later changed to life sentence. Unofficial census hints at the presence of three hundred students in different prisons of the country.

Attorneys in law are another group that have been tried and condemned and imprisoned in special courts, the best known of them is Naser Zarafshan, the defending attorney of the families who lost one or two of their members in a series of grotesque murders carried out by secret service of Islamic Republic four years ago. Imprisonment of Zarafshan, a well-known political activist has been followed by extensive protest from the international human rights and lawyer's institutes throughout the world, but so far the juridical power run by conservatives has paid no attention to these protests.

Iranian intellectuals who have been under great pressure of the state secret service ever since the foundation of Islamic Republic on the charge of being laic and against the religious rule with hundreds of them being forced to immigrate, are once again experiencing great coercion in the past few months; with fourteen of them already killed during the past decade, they are again constantly summoned to the courts and disappear. Last year, the special court set up in the airport to deal with smugglers, arranged a dramatic trial for Siamak Pourzand, an old journalist. During his trial, Siamak Pourzand who appeared seriously emaciated called himself a criminal and an instrument in the hands of enemies of Islamic Republic and following what is now a rule in political courts of Islamic Republic with hundred examples seen so far, he admitted all the charges set against him and called Iranian intellectuals as enemy and agents of foreign powers. The court condemned him to eleven years of imprisonment, but they released him just before the arrival of European Union representatives who had gone to Iran to discuss the violation of human rights in Iran. In a meeting with European ambassadors, Siamak Pourzand confessed to his crime and denied any mistreatment and torture while in prison. Following this meeting, he was sentenced again as one of the ambassadors had said that he had been brainwashed in prison.

Alireza Jabari, writer and translator who disappeared three months ago and it was thought for a time that he has been murdered, re-appeared finally while being taken with handcuffs to the same smuggler's court in the airport. On the basis of his telephone conversations and letters and photographs found in his home, he was accused of having illegitimate relationships, while it was said that his real charge was disclosure of secret proclamation in relation to political prisoners and interviews with foreign press while abroad. Last week, in a letter addressed to President Khatami, Jabari's wife threatened that considering her husband's sickness and the fact that he has never been involved in any political activity, if they continue to ignore his ill physical conditions and keep him under pressure, she will forget about her life and will do whatever necessary to prove her husband's innocence.

The degree of the pressure that the conservatives and clergies who under no conditions are ready to allow people to play a role in their fate is now extending to MPs, state spokesman, injured soldiers and even some of the members of secret and security services. They all share one thing in common and that is disclosure of facts on murders and fabrication of cases against individuals and other wrongful deeds that the religious regime permits itself to commit.

On Saturday, the court of justice of Tehran compelled Hussein Ghazian, the manager of the institute of census and social researches, to criticize Mousavi Khoeniha, the reformist MP for giving false information to UN inspectors of human rights in a letter and announce that in contrast to Khoeniha's claim he had never been tortured in prison although guilty of his attributed charges. On the basis of such dubious confession, the court issued the verdict of arrest of this young MP. Mousavi Khoeniha is the most active MP in relation to the matters retaining to the prisoners and the secret prisons run by the extremist groups and publication of the reports on the mysterious disappearance of individuals and those kept in solitary cells is among his most important attempts.

Like other people who were interviewed by foreign radios - with five of them arrested and tried so far - the official interrogating me in the prison said, "To us, interview with BBC is like membership in MI6" and following the same reasoning condemned me to nineteen months of imprisonment.

Despite all these attempts, there is still a way to disclose murders and disappearances and pressures executed in solitary cells against students, journalists and others: Internet, the latest and freest media of human invention. And now following the closure of almost all the other ways of breathing freely, Internet is seen particularly by the young Iranians as the only way to find access to the news of what is really going on in the country. But the conservatives have evil plans for Internet too.

Two months ago, in harmony with the clergies of many cities and towns, the head of juridical power who escaped Saddam Hussein's purges and came to Iran from Najaf twenty years ago, called Internet as "Trojan horse that carries enemy soldiers in his abdomen" Following that a group started to prepare a bill to limit information highways of Internet. However, further consultation with experts made clergies to realize that it is not possible to limit the use of Internet by laws and punishment. Therefore, they appealed to another trick and by hiring tens of people and purchasing the best necessary equipments, they set up the greatest hack station called "Islam Hacker" in Qum that managed to disrupt a few internet sites for a short time; web logs however, are increasing in number almost on a daily basis.

Sina Motalebi, is the last person arrested on the charge of having a web log and writing freely about current events of the country in his web log. The night before his arrest, and in the last writing of his web log, he disclosed that he had been summoned to the secret service offices four times for various reasons. In his web log where he wrote on a daily basis, Sina anticipated that the next time they summon him, he will be arrested. And that was exactly what happened. Farnaz Ghazizadeh, Sina's young wife who is unemployed due the closure of reformist newspapers like her husband, has a web log under her own and her four year old son's name where she writes in a simple language about her son and their life. On April 29, she wrote, my son Mani asks for his father and weeps, perhaps just because his teeth are growing. He doesn't know where his father is, I don't know it either and he doesn't know it himself.

The arrest of Sina Motalebi, even though is a warning to web log writers who still can not be checked and controlled easily has chimed thousands Persian web logs and thousands letters have been signed for his freedom through Internet. Web log 'journal' of Sina Motalebi was closed down the day after his arrest and instead there is a note saying that it is closed due to some technical problems.

A month after the Coalition forces invaded Iraq, Iran, Syrian and North Korea, that are the main audience of Donald Rumsfeld and other authorities in Washington, each see themselves facing new conditions in their own ways and are trying to find a way to avoid threats. Iran's situation is different from her neighbor Iraq and the other members of the so called 'axis of evil.' Every political group inside the country interpret what happened in Iraq and the future of Iran in their own peculiar way and the leaders of Islamic Republic show no attempt in choosing any of these interpretations and prefer to wait and watch the course of events in Iraq, hoping to receive the news that America is going to give up her plans for the Middle East. Meanwhile they are trying to keep the country in peace and away from any kind of agitation, but the way they are trying to keep this peace truly betrays the weakness of Islamic Republic more than anything else.

During the early days of the attack of Coalition Forces, the national radio and television and press that are run by the conservatives' budget, forgot their enmity with Saddam Hussein and in their daily propaganda broadcasted news produced by Aljazeereh television and Said Alsahaf. The totality of these propagandas showed that those faithful to Saddam Hussein will resist against foreign forces and Iraq is the quagmire that will bring about the fall of United States. They were the kind of propaganda and slogans that the conservatives had uttered in relation to Afghanistan the year before and had written, "Afghanistan is another Vietnam" and immediately after the pitiful fall of Taliban, the media run by Iranian Conservatives wrote that Bin Laden and Mullah Omar have been betrayed. In relation to Iraq, however, the conservatives' propagandas were different. When Baghdad fell, they hid the truth from people for two days and repeated Said Alsahaf's words and when it was impossible to continue their lies, they showed a film of their correspondent in Iraq, announcing excitedly that there has been a hidden agreement and compromise between Saddam Hussein and American army and therefore the ideals of Iraqi people have been betrayed. In both the above cases once Taliban and Saddam Hussein were overthrown the state media began to broadcast reports that portrayed them as American puppets and agents. Through such propaganda they tried to promise people that if America attacks Iran, they will not suffer the same fate and they are bound to see an extensive resistance and 'another Vietnam'. But this is what is seen on the stage, behind the stage another story is going on.

The reformists, however think differently, but although they hold the majority both in the cabinet and the parliament, but due to the problems that conservatives have created for them, they have failed to actualize the promises they gave people during the election. They tried to render the real picture of the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime equally to the people and the leaders of Islamic Republic and by showing the danger that is threatening Iranian regime ask them to surrender to democratic rules and tolerate free election and free independent press, release the imprisoned intellectuals and lessen the role of clerics in the government, inviting them to go back to their theological schools and like the priests confer the power to technocrats to save Iran from suffering a fate similar to that of Iraq.

The reformists' reasoning was so sound that it seemed the leaders of Islamic Republic have really no other choice than to follow it. But they did not heed it and the arrest of intellectuals and persecutions and tortures in prisons and forced confessions and banning of newspapers continued. The government agents keep invading people's houses, confiscating their satellite dishes, raiding parties, slashing young people on the charge of dancing together and refusing to change the death verdict of the university professor accused of criticizing ecclesiastics.

Following the military invasion of Iraq, the extremist groups intensified their attacks and in their articles published in Keyhan Newspaper run by Ayatolah Khamenei's office they conveyed that the invasion of Iraq was carried out by the orders of Zionists and asked Moslem groups to prepare themselves for suicidal attacks on Washington and wherever Americans and Israelis can be found.

Fearing public opinions, the government of Islamic Republic banned the anti-war gatherings - similar to those held in European countries -- and they even banned the match between popular football teams and did not allow any groups except those faithful to the government and in favor of the slogan "Death to America and Israel" to set up a demonstration, lest people's opposition becomes evident.

The demonstrations of Iraqi people and the protests of Iraqi Shiites, the trip of French Foreign Minister to Tehran and his emphasis on anti-war position of Europeans and the isolated resistances made in Iraq are all exaggerated by the conservatives and national media to strengthen the spirit of the faithful supporters of Islamic Republic, but the intensification of attempts to limit freedoms shows people that the government is in a state of fear, but it is doing its best to prevent this fear from becoming epidemic.

Web logs that until the breakout of the war in Iraq dealt mainly with Madonna's songs, western music and films and photographs of Victoria and David Beckham, are now quite politicized and web log writers are becoming more candid, courageous and reckless as the result of their anger toward the arrest of their web log writer friend, molestation of parties and confiscation of satellite dishes. On Saturday, an eighteen year old young man writing in his web log called "Good, Evil, Very Evil" under the name of "John Lennon," wrote in his daily journal under a photograph of Rumsfeld, the foreign minister of US, and the news of his threats against Iran, "War is the worst phenomenon, it is dirty, but the people who can not believe that its time is over are even worst. They should be told that their fate will be worse than Saddam Hussein and Tarogh Aziz, because Saddam Hussein killed his enemies and hated those who were preoccupied with politics, but the leaders of Iran are against love and joy and youth and anything modern. What a joyful day is on the way!"

... Payvand News - 5/16/03 ... --



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