Iran News ...


10/07/08

Mr Ahmadinejad, So you're saying I'm free?

By Masih Alinejad (translated by Arash Kamangir)

Payvand.com - Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran, attended the UN General Assembly, for the fourth time, and proudly bragged about freedom in Iran. Referring to the treatment of civil liberties in Iran he stated.

Although, there is punishment in the US penal code for offense against the military uniform, there is no punishment in Iran for speaking out against the officials...Freedom in Iran is more inclusive that what you think and criticizing the government officials is absolutely allowed. People will only be punished when they violate others' rights.

 



This is Iran and I am a journalist from the country whose president is so keen to dress up and go to New York every year to show off how much free we are. This is my land, the place which has a president so confident that criticizing the actions of the officials is absolutely free. For the past four years, the fairy tale of freedom has been told by the same person. For the past four years, we have been listening to Mr president when he regularly bashed the international media in the eyes of the world and made us all proud. We are becoming accustomed to thinking that offending the military uniform is in fact a crime in the US and that, us, the inhabitants of this land, are in fact given the gift of absolute freedom and we don't even realize it.

When Mr president, with his unearthly pride, tells us that there are no political prisoners in Iran and that freedom, beyond imagination, rules in Iran, we, the journalists, try not to remember that Emadeddin Baghi and the other confined journalists did nothing but constructive criticism of the actions of the officials. That of course cost them time in the jail. Closing-off of the newspapers and magazines and banning of the books in fact turned the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance headed by a minister assigned by Mr president into a new form of prison. We have gotten used to no one explaining it to the students, activist women and intellectuals, who are confined in physical or virtual prisons, whether the acts of writing, thinking, publishing articles and books, and giving speeches are in fact illegal and that's why they are sent behind the bars. The same goes for running a seated strike in a university, attending a calm protest in front of a courthouse, or arguing against a discriminatory law. These are all what the administration interprets as violating the rights of "others" and that's why they punish the "offenders". People have been struck by major lawsuits for the same reasons. Some are sitting in a jail waiting for a furlough and the rest are students banned from attending their classes. There are also the women who are sentenced to jail and lashes everyday. Thanks to the kindness of the Head of the Judiciary the lash sentences are never actually carried out.

This the dilemma that we are facing; why is it that the absolute freedom, Mr president brags about in the US, does not apply for the citizens of my country? The newspapers are banned, websites and personal blogs of the journalist are filtered, and our inquiries are left unanswered. Do the journalists actually break into the privacy of anyone when they use words and pictures?

Nevertheless, he keeps insisting on his claims and we keep being silent, thus practically verifying his claims. I believe we have to break this cycle and actually help him realize what the facts are. Maybe then, we, us the journalists and him, can actually end up showing off how much freedom we have got in our country for real. We have to push the illusion of freedom away and show our wounds. Then, Ahmadinejad or anyone else, when they put Iran and freedom in the same sentence, in front of people from outside Iran, we won't have to wait for the foreign journalists to ask the questions. We have to have given the answers beforehand.

Our efforts might look minuscule and we might seem not making any progress, but we have to do it to the best we can. If we are not able to fight for others' rights, let us do what we can do to protect our own rights. We have to do something if we want to be safe from the claws of the "absolute freedom". Name it a call to action. Instead of trying to argue that the president is not telling the truth and that freedom does not exist in Iran, let's call on him on that. Let's make him commit to the claims he is making.

There are many great writers in my country, compared to whom the administration owes me the least. But, based on the absolute freedom that Ahmadinejad has talked about in the UN, I gladly take his words seriously and do not fear to give a hand to him and to the "absolute freedom", how much little my contribution can be.

I went from door to door in the hallways of Ahmadinejad's Ministry of Culture for three years to have my book be granted the permission for a reprint. That was after it had already been given the permission for print in the previous administration. The story of polishing that book for publication contains many fascinating chapters. 

 


In my first book, Crown of Thorns (Taaj-e Khaar), I talked about an MP, who was a clergyman, and how he got mad at me.  That book is essentially about the story of acquiring and publishing a copy of the monthly paycheck of the MPs and thus questioning their claims of not having a high salary. One day, I was in the hallways of the parliament and this cleric MP kept insisting that my veil was not proper and that if I do not rectify the problem he will kick me out of the building. I, on the other hand, kept telling him that the few strands of hair on my forehead did not represent poor veil. I surveyed how I looked and after I made sure that I was within the definition of proper covering, I uttered, "So, you are willing to beat me to push these few strands of hair underneath my veil. What are you going to do to the thousands of girls in the wealthy neighborhoods of Tehran and their way of covering their heads?" That was when he got mad and took off his clergyman outfit and turban. It was only the intervention of other men in the hallway that made him calm down. So I wrote this down in the book. Apparently, that was too much, even for a reformist administration, and so I had to change the sentence to refer to "formal clothing" instead of "clergyman outfit and turban". This was how my book got the permission for print in the first place.


 

 

 


What are you supposed to do when the head of a government states in the UN that inappropriate reference to the military uniform is an offense in the US, and he does not refer to the fact that in Iran you are not allowed to refer to the outfit of the clergymen even when they are involved in improper conduct? 

I met Saffar Harandi, Ahmadinejad's Minister of Culture, in his first year of occupying the office in Tehran Book Fair. Like other conservative politicians, he would stare at the floor to avoid eye contact with the lady who was talking to him. When I told him "I am Masih Alinejad", he starred deep into my eyes and said "So, you are Masih Alinejad". Glad that I am having a conversation with him I got optimistic about the fate of my book. Not that he was the minister in a conservative administration. I would have felt the same way if he was Ahmad Masjed-Jamei from the former reformist cabinet.

I had had to accept the removal of some parts of my book in order to have it published when the reformist government was in power. I did that only to save the whole book from being sacrificed. So, I told him the same thing, that I wanted him to tell me what parts of the book he thought should be removed for the book to escape the ban. When three years passed and I got no response from the ministry, I, like all other people in the same situation, realized that I have no share in this absolute freedom, even when I agree to censor parts of my book.


So, what is my share of the absolute freedom? When Manijeh Hekmat, the renowned  director of the famous movie "Women's Prison", said if her movie does not get approved for the theaters she will sell cigarettes in front the parliament (selling cigarettes in the streets is the illegal petty job for unskilled poor people in Iran), I found it even funny. I was too young at the time, now I know that I will do the same thing if my book does not get published. After all these years, and Ahmadinejad's men pretending that my book does not exist, I will publish it here in the UK, out of my own pocket and with the help of an Iranian publisher located here. I believe that the sale of my book will be a testimony for everyone, both the public and the administration, that I have not violated anyone's rights and that I do not deserve any punishment.

If they do not give my share of the absolute freedom, I will take it. The only difference is, I will not be worried about the fear of arrest when I go back to Iran, where freedom rules. I will go back to Iran and I will take copies of my book, which I will title "I am Free", and I will sell them in the streets of Tehran where the bookstores are. I may even have a venture in front of the presidential buildings in Pastor Sq. This is not a shame. I am also taking all the precautions to avoid that old silly label, that I have received help from foreign organizations. I am going back clean and I am not looking for trouble. It all boils down to one simple fact, "there is absolute freedom in Iran and there is no offense for speaking out against the officials", as Mr Ahmadinejad put it. I totally obey the law and I am ready for prosecution if I cross the line drawn by Mr Ahmadinejad's claim. Therefore, it is on the administration to give in to what they have promised for, the absolute freedom to criticize the officials.

Not that I am not worried, I am. But, at the same time, I am relying on Ahmadinejad's latest promise and so I am planning to go back to Iran, in two months and half from now,  and I will be carrying copies of my book "I am Free", the very ordinary story of a female journalist in the days which led to the ninth presidential elections (the elections which led to Ahmadinejad's presidency). I am not that brave that I totally forget the fear. At the same time, I am not that strong that I see my book remain on a shelf forever and stay in this foreign land for the rest of my life. The people who have gone through this know that it is impossible to survive here without working for a non-Iranian media sources . These are my only reasons for what I am doing and if they do not start a ruckus to disrupt the sale of my book and do not filter my blog, which I am planning to acquire some of the costs of publishing my book from, I am not looking for anything but publishing my fourth book . 
 
This is my share of the absolute freedom and I believe that each and every Iranian has to ask for their own share from the administration. This is a call for action and I find myself obliged to give a hand to anyone who decides to do the same for their rights. I am in need of support as well. We are not in the illusion of support coming from the outer world, as Ahmadinejad is. We need help and I am counting on all the support I can get

 

About Masih Alinejad:
 

PERSONAL PROFILE:

 

I am a daring and controversial journalist who believes in the rule of law, the process of democracy, citizen's rights and civil society and that has raised key issues concerning Iranian politics in the Iranian media during the course of the past few years.

 

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Professional Journalist since 2000,

  • Publication of more than 400 articles, reports and interviews (2000-2008),

  • Activist in Iranian women's rights,

  • Currently columnist with Etemad Melli daily (Tehran, Iran)

  • Some of my articles have been published in France Press and New York Times

  • Parliamentary Journalist for four years,

  • Published two books,

  • Member of Iranian Journalists Syndicate,

  • Member of the International Federation of Journalists
     

Related Article:

Massih Alinejad, a brave Iranian woman journalist
From time to time I come across some young men and women that warm up my heart and send rays of hope about the future in my heart for Iran and Iranians. Recently we went to see a young journalist, Massih Alinejad, at her office at Hambastegi newspaper. We met a very sincere, dedicated and earnest young lady who strongly believes in law and order and process of democracy and rights of citizen as well as clarity and transparency. This lady is a young daring journalist who is as determined as she is tough and sure of her goals, like the mountains surrounding Tehran -By Syma Sayyah, Tehran

... Payvand News - 10/07/08 ... --



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