Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Blame your own actions for tarnishing your image, not us: Journalists' open letter to Islamic regime's judiciary

In an open letter to the Islamic Republic's judiciary chief Sadegh Larijani on March 10, 2010, more than one hundred Iranian journalists and lawyers denounced the widespread imprisonment of journalists and argued that the regime, not honest reporting, is responsible for its own tarnished image. (translation of letter at the end of this report)

The Islamic regime, is particularly sensitive about its image and often accuses its critiques of 'tarnishing' its reputation, honor, or image. 'Makhdoush kardan' -- to tarnish, disfigure, or alter -- has become a hackneyed term in the Islamic regime's lexicon and has been bandied as frequently as that other meaningless charge, 'endangering national security.'

In October of last year, when international watchdog Reporters Without Borders released its annual press freedom report in which the Islamic Republic was ranked 172nd out of 175 countries, Islamic Guidance and Culture Minister Seyed Mohammad Hosseini announced, 'The goal of ranking Iran 176th [sic] was to present an inappropriate image of the regime.' The problem was obviously the ranking system not the Islamic Republic's record.

Two months ago, the Political Division of the state radio-television broadcaster (yes, such a division officially exists) related the comments of Nourollah Heidari Dastyabi, member of the Majlis education committee, rejecting the existence of students deprived of studying in Mashhad's Ferdowsi University because of their activism. 'Counter-revolutionary sites have been spreading these rumors to tarnish the image of the sacred regime of the Islamic Republic as we approach the anniversary celebrations of the revolution (NB February 11),' Heidari Dastyabi said. Not only are students routinely expelled from universities for a set number of terms for transgressions such as participating in demonstrations, but some student leaders have been sentenced to heavy prison terms. Student leader Majid Tavakoli, for example, was sentenced to 8 and a half years behind bars in January. Other students who have been arrested and mistreated in prison: Soroush Sabet, Soroush Dastsetani, Bita Samimizad, Anahita Hosseini, Mohammad Pourabdollah, Bijan Sabagh, Behzad Bagheri, Morteza Khedmatlou, Amin Ghazai, Mohammad Zeraati, Farzad Hassanzadeh... The last two in this list were arrested at Mashhad's Ferdowsi University, by the way.

A visit to the web site of the 'Mashhad students seeking freedom and equality' takes us to a page bearing the message posted on the right. 'This blog has been shut down for one of the following reasons: The order of legal authorities to close down the blog, Infringement of the terms of use, The publication of obscene content or content which is illegal according to the laws of the country.'

Or consider this remark made by the chief of the General Inspection Organization of the Islamic Republic, Mostafa Pourmohammadi, on the state body's official web site: 'The enemy wanted to tarnish the image of the regime after the 10th presidential election (NB June 12, 2009).' Pourmohammadi, loyal servant of the regime, former Deputy Intelligence Minister, former Interior Minister, and, according to the late Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, representative of the Intelligence Ministry in charge of interrogating prisoners during the mass execution of over 3,000 political prisoners in Evin Prison in the late 1980s knows a thing or two about tarnishing the face of the regime.

This short list of quotes would be even more incomplete if I did not include one by the exalted founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. On May 26, 1979, a short while after the victory of the revolution, Khomeini remarked on the risk of tarnishing the image of Islam (if the words seem at times to be rambling and syntactically-challenged, please remember that they were uttered and not written down): 'The thing which I consider very important is that today we have an Islamic Republic. [...] All the various portions of the nation, especially those who are working at the top, especially the clerics who are working at the top, these people must pay attention that, God forbid, the image of the Republic of Islam does not appear ugly among the people. This is at the peak of important issues. Assets are not things which are taken away, embezzled, or confiscated. Or they can work for the deprived. Of course, these things can be done. But the most important thing is the reputation of Islam and efforts must be made to preserve this reputation.'

Speaking of the tarnished face of the regime, here are the faces of just some of the dozens of journalists who are currently in jail and have made the Islamic Republic the biggest prison for reporters in the world. The translation of the open letter to judiciary chief Sadegh Larijani follows the photos...

Ahmad Zeidabadi, arrested June 2009. Sentenced to 6 years in prison in December 2009. Journalist, secretary general of the national alumni association, member of the Association of Iranian Journalists, winner of the World Association of Newspapers' Golden Pen of Freedom Award:

Massoud Bastani, arrested July 5, 2009, sentenced to 6 years in October 2009 (per Norooz). Journalist for Jomhouriyat, arrested when he went to the Revolutionary Court to seek information about his arrested wife, journalist Mahsa Amrabadi.

Emadeddine Baghi, arrested December 8, 2009. Journalist, prominent human rights activist and the founder of the Committee for the Defense of Prisoners' Rights. Baghi was jailed in Evin prison last year. When Baghi was arrested this year, he told his children that he would 'stand strong in prison' as he was taken away. At that point, one of the intelligence agents turned to the family and said, 'He won't live long enough to stand strong.' Winner of the Martin Ennals Award, one of the most prestigious human rights prizes in the world, in 2009. He was also awarded the 2008 prize for International Journalist of the Year by the British press.

Alireza Beheshti Shirazi, arrested December 28, 2009, spent 70 days in solitary confinement. Editor of Kalameh and senior adviser of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi.

Mohammad Javadi Hessar, arrested in December 2009. Journalist and former legislator in Mashhad. Senior member of opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi's Etemad Melli Party. Editor of Tous Magazine, fined and banned from journalism for 10 years in 1998 for an article criticizing higher education policies.

Mohammad Davari, arrested September 8, 2009. Editor of Saham News, opposition leader Karroubi's news site. Went on a hunger strike in march to protest his transfer to solitary confinement. In April, it was reported that he was being tortured to force him to publicly reject Karroubi's claims that the regime's security officers had raped political prisoners.

Issa Saharkhiz, arrested July 3, 2009. Editor of banned publications Akhbar Eghtesad and Aftab. Columnist for Rooz and Norooz web sites.

Hengameh Shahidi, arrested June 30, 2009, released on bail in November 2009, arrested again in February 2010. She went on a hunger strike in October 2009. She has been threatened with a 6-year sentence. Observer for Human Rights Watch, activist for Campaign Against Stoning. Adviser to opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi. Winner of Press Fair award for her coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Abolfazl Abedini, arrested and badly beaten by security officers March 2, 2010. Sentenced to 11 years in prison. Transferred to Evin Prison's infirmary after severe torture on April 11, 2010. Member of the Pan-Iranist Party. Journalist who most recently covered labor unrest in Ahvaz.

Massoud Lavasani, arrested October 1, 2009. Sentence reduced from 8 and a half years to 4 and a half years upon appeal. He was forbidden to see his two-year-old son for several months. Journalist and blogger. His blog has been shut down.

Javad Mahzadeh, arrested October 2009. Sentenced to 4 years in prison on February 3, 2010. Novelist and journalist. Author of the critically-acclaimed novel 'Take Laughter Away From Me,' about a young man's life in the first decade after the revolution.

Mehdi Mahmoudian, arrested September 18, 2009. Not allowed to see his young daughter for six months. Has severe health problems, particularly a lung ailment that developed in prison. Journalist and member of the Islamic Iran Participation Front. Was the first journalist to make revelations about the notorious Kahrizak detention center.

Yasser Masoumi, arrested March 14, 2010. Technology specialist and journalist for reformist publications.

Badrolsadat Mofidi, secretary general of the Association of Iranian Journalists. The organization's offices were sealed by security forces on the night of August 5, 2009, to prevent reporters who had been convened from the around the country to participate in a general assembly. On December 22, 2009, she gave an interview to Deutsch Welle in which she described the regime's crackdown on the press. A week later, security forces stormed her house and arrested her, along with her husband Massoud Aghai. 

Ali Malihi, arrested February 9, 2010. Journalist at Etemad daily and a senior member of the national alumni association (Advareh Tahkim).

Ehsan Mehrabi, arrested February 7, 2010. Journalist at Hambastegi and Etemad Melli newspapers.

Shiva Nazarahari, arrested June 14, 2009, released on bail on September 23, 2009, and arrested again on December 21, 2009, as she was driving to Ghom to attend the funeral of dissident Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri. Human rights activist and journalist.

Hossein Nouraninejad, arrested September 17, 2009. Journalist and head of communications for the Islamic Iran Participation Front.

Mohammad Nourizad, arrested December 20, 2009. A conservative journalist and documentary filmmaker who became a staunch critic of the regime. He issued an open letter to Leader Ali Khamenei after Khamenei's intransigent Friday Prayer sermon on June 19, strongly criticizing the regime's stance.

Open letter to judiciary chief Sadegh Larijani:

In the name of God.

To the Honorable chief of the judiciary branch, Ayatollah Sadegh Amoli Larijani:

As you know, unexpected and at times painful events took place following the 10th presidential election in the summer of last year. These events began with the peaceful and widespread objections of large portions of the Iranian people, objections which continue to this day and were confronted by the government. The government's actions, which have not ceased, include widespread arrests, trials, and imprisonments, conducted under the supervision of the judiciary or ostensibly by officers of the courts.

In this context, our concerns and anguish have been deepened by the treatment of newspapers and journalists critical of the ruling faction. Numerous newspapers and publications have been suspended, many web sites have been blocked, and dozens of reporters who have voiced criticism have been arrested. Some journalists have been tried and convicted in revolutionary courts without a jury and sometimes without the presence of a defense attorney. Many have been held in a state of uncertainty in preventive detention for months. And some have been released temporarily after paying heavy bails.

The office of the Association of Iranian Journalists was sealed months ago and a short while later, Mrs. Badrolsadat Mofidi, the secretary general of this, the only professional organization which is trusted by journalists, was arrested. She is still in jail without any steps being taken to try her in an appropriate court or to release her on suitable bail. You are aware that preventive detention is prescribed on special occasions and that the common practice is to set bail after arraignment. This process is rarely applied in the case of journalists.

Honorable chief of the judiciary branch,

When the offices of the only professional organization trusted by journalists is sealed, its secretary general is imprisoned, and dozens of journalists and bloggers are sent to jail, does this not mean that the Islamic Republic of Iran cannot tolerate journalists and their open criticisms? And is this interpretation by public opinion not the worst kind of publicity for the regime? Does it not paint the regime as violent and irrational?

When some bodies, whose only duty is to carry out the laws approved by the Majlis, begin to define crime and expand the notion of criminality, does this not constitute interference in the duties of the relevant branches (legislative and judiciary), and ultimately an infringement on the judiciary's independence? And does this not tarnish the image of the regime?

If, as is claimed, writing an article in a publication or web site, or giving an interview to a foreign media outlet tarnishes the image of the regime, then is the regime not sullied by months of confrontation with newspapers and jailed journalists and bloggers to whom fair judicial procedure has not been applied?

Honorable chief of the judiciary branch,

We are increasingly worried about the well-being of the secretary general of the Association of Iranian Journalists given the news that has surfaced almost four months after her arrest. Along with Mrs. Mofidi, many of our colleagues and friends are currently in prison and this adds to our concerns.

We are journalists. Our duty is to disseminate news and analyze the political, economic, social, and cultural situation in the country. Our duty is to draw a true picture of whatever is occurring. And, of course, criticism is our most obvious right.

Free our friends and colleagues so that they may carry out their duties.

April 10, 2010


Shiva Aba, Farzaneh Ebrahimzadeh, fatemeh Astiri, Saeedeh Eslamiyeh, Amir Houshang Eftekharirad, Zohreh Aghayani, Sanaz Allahbedashti, Parvin Emami, Amir hadi Anvari, Lida Ayaz, Masoumeh Imani, Sergeh Barseghian, Parvin Bakhtiarnejad, Setareh Bakhtiari, Mohammad Bastehnegar, Sadra Baktash, Jila Baniyaghoub, Negin Behkam, Fatemeh Beikpour, Iman Paknahad, Mahmoud Pourrezai, Abdolreza Tajik, Mehdi Tajik, Reza Tehrani, Zahra Jafarzadeh, Hamid Jafari, Mohammad Jafari, Noushin Jafari, Hamidreza Jalaipour, Reza Javalchi, Nargess Jodaki, Fereshteh Haghi, Ali Hekmat, Mohammad Heidari, Hadi Heidari, Alireza Khamsian, Reza Khojasteh Rahimi, Elaheh Khosravi, Ali Dehghan, Nima Rad, Alireza Rajai, Taghi Rahmani, Shabnam Rahmati, Alireza Rahiminejad, Sami Rastegari, Marzieh Rasouli, Nargess Rasouli, Nasrin Rezai, Massoud Rafii Taleghani, Ali Ranjipour, Farzaneh Roustai, Mohammad Reza Zahdi, Masoumeh Sotoudeh, Ezatollah Sohabi, Sonita Sorabpour, Pouria Souri, Ali Asghar Seidabadi, Mariam Shabani, Reza Shojaian, Saba Sherdoust, Hamed Shafii, Mashaollah Shamsolvaezin, Ameneh Shirafkan, Hedi saber, Mohammad Sadeghi, Azam Taleghani, Siamak Taheri, Rihaneh Tabatabai, Ehsan Abedi, Eshrat Abdollahi, Mohammad Adli, Amin Alamolhedi, Hadis Elmi, Mohammad Hassan Alipour, Reza Alijani, Reza Gheibi, Ezra Farahani, Mehran Farji, Soroush Farhadian, Soleiman Farhadian, Gisou Foghfori, Mahtab Gholizadeh, Morteza Kazemian, Azam Golbari, Sara Laghai, Marjan Laghai, Seyed Hamid Motaghi, Hassan Mohammadi, Davoud Mohammadi, Soleiman Mohammadi, Nargess Mohammadi, Sam Mahmoudisarai, Saeed Madani, Ali Mazroui, Mohammad Javad Mozafar, Abouzar Motamedi, Sara Masoumi, Behrad Mehrjou, Keyvan Mehregan, Ameneh Mousavi, Minou Momeni, Bijan Momeivand, Maryam Nazari, Sahar Namazikhah, Mehdi Norouzian, Azam Veisameh, Zeinab Hemati, Massoud Youssefi

Lawyers supporting journalists
Nemat Ahmadi
(FaceBook page, lawyer of Fiaz Zahed of the Etemad Melli Party, Feizollah Arabsorkhi of the Mojahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization, etc. Six-part interview with Nemat Ahmadi on VOA.)
Saghi Bakhtiari 
Houshang Pourbabai
(Lawyer of Mostafa Tajzadeh and Mohsen Mirdamadi of the Islamic Iran Participation Front, etc. Interview with Houshang Pourbabai)
Seyed Mohammad Ali Dadkhah
(One of the founders of the Defenders of Human Rights Center. Lawyer of Zahra Kazemi, Iranian-Canadian photographer killed in custody, Omidreza Mirsayafi, blogger who died under suspicious circusmtances in Evin Prison last year, Ebrahim Yazdi of the Freedom Party, etc.)
Nasrin Sotoudeh
(Member of the Defenders of Human Rights Center and the campaign for One Million Signatures. Defender of women's rights activists and juvenile offenders facing execution. Lawyer of Arash rahmanipour, 20, who was executed for moharebeh, Mohammd Sedigh Kabudvand, human rights activist in Kurdistan province, etc. CNN interview with Nasrin Sotoudeh.)

Abdolfatah Soltani
(Founding member of the Defenders of Human Rights Center. Prominent defender of numerous activists, he has been imprisoned many times, most recently for 72 days after being arrested in June 2009. Awarded the Nuremberg Human Rights prize. ) 
Seyed Mohammad Seifzadeh
(Founding member of the Defenders of Human Rights Center. Has defended members of the Baha'i faith, student activists, journalist Mashaollah Shamsolvaezin, etc.)
Sahar Seifi

Shirin Ebadi
(Founding member of the Defenders of Human Rights Center. Nobel Peace Prize laureate.)
Farideh Gheirat
(Director of the Association for the Defense of Prisoners.)
Mariam Karbassi
Mariam Kianarsi
(Member of the Volunteer Lawyers Network which opposed the Islamic penal Code bill). 
Marzieh Nikara
Saleh Nikbakht
(Member of the Association for the Defense of Prisoners. Lawyer of opposition political leaders Abdollah Ramezanzadeh and Mohammad Ali Abtahi, etc. Interview with Saleh Nikbakht about the second session of the infamous show trials.)

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