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  • Iran: crackdown on journalists as election nears

    Soheil Asefi

    At least 14 journalists affiliated with reformist news outlets were arrested in Iran between 26 to 28 January  in the largest crackdown on the press since 2009, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Iranian authorities to immediately release all journalists in custody and halt their practice of imprisoning critical journalists.

    I do not really know how I should begin amid of ongoing hue and cry in the mainstream media and the social networks like Facebook. Maybe the best way to begin is to go directly to the familiar term called “police state”.  A police state is a state in which the government exercises rigid and repressive controls over the social, economic, and political life of the population. A police state typically exhibits elements of totalitarianism and social control, and there is usually little or no distinction between the law and the exercise of political power by the executive. Leading up to the so-called presidential elections (scheduled in June) in Iran an all out war against journalists has been launched. The game is well-worn. Upward of 14 journalists who worked in the neoliberal religious papers in Iran have been arrested in raids of reformist dailies and news agencies and in run up to the election . The point is everything is going on midst of all hums about deal that can be made between the US and the Islamic Republic. Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani recently said that negotiation with the US is not a “red line”, adding that the US, instead of taking a destructive stance, should help negotiation to progress. Thus I suppose a lot of others will get arrested in the coming months as well.  All of this is happening at a time when diplomatic moves are being made for direct negotiations between the Islamic Republic and the United States. A large number of Iranian activists and political observers, particularly the neoliberal forces,  have totally capitulated to the agenda of the United States and its allies and are duplicating  themselves in the Persian mainstream media. On top of that neither of other candidates including reformists, nor pro Ahmadinejad or pro Khamenei, had any structured economic plans or ways out of the crisis except the prescriptions of the IMF.

    Recognition of truth under the propaganda apparatus

    There are no dissident and independent publications in today’s Iran. For some time there was the possibility of writing for some of the religious reformist papers. Under circumstances when independent research and analysis of the contemporary history of Iran was rare, numerous articles of mine were published in the history, politics and culture pages of the high-circulation daily “Shargh”, and were well received. This reaction, and the overwhelmingly positive reception of people in Tehran and other cities of Iran, highlighted the thirst for information and knowledge following the thirty-four-year old pressure and suppression by religious rule over Iran though the “religious reformists” themselves never tolerated my company, even though my articles were always laid-out on the front page due to their journalistic nature. For some time, and through censors, I was allowed to write in this or that section of their papers. However, the hysteria of “religious reformists” against independent, radical and left groups, led to a point that I had no chance to write for printed media anymore.

    As a matter of fact regrettably  the Association of Iranian Journalists which was closed  by the authorities in August 2009 was never like a home to me and other independent journalists. It always was dominated by the reformist religious faction and its cohort. I still remember the silence of the Association of Iranian Journalists about one of  their members  when I was in the jail. At that point in time, and despite the political strains in the Ahmadinejad government, many of my “reformist” and so-called “liberal” or “neutral” colleagues who currently are in jail, on bail or outside the country, still had their publications and were active, but never tolerated my presence and company.  Recently many of the organizers of the Association of Iranian Journalists  moved into exile after disputes over the last Iranian presidential election and the irony is they all try to play the role of dealer in the fake “reformist” opposition during the current chaos despite the collapse of their influence.

    Nevertheless, the fact is anything that Iranian journalists write may be used as evidence of “propaganda against the system” or “conspiracy against national security”.  In response to this my arrested colleagues try to write as little as possible during recent years.

    Throughout the last few years the situation changed and conditions deteriorated, especially for the majority of these journalists who were close to the “refromist” faction,  formerly the power behind the throne. The last so-called presidential election and the factional divisions altered the balance of power of the rival groups. After the election, the “Green Movement” became a business in Washington and New York and London and Paris and Berlin etc. I always used to emphasize even Green movement supporters within Iran have nothing in common with those of the western mainstream media where some claimed to be the representatives of religious reformism. Some demanded their own share and some denied the essence of the movement and dreamed of their imaginary revolutions. All of this was going on outside of Iran among various political activists and journalists associated with the Green movement through western mainstream media. Afterwards, a number of these kinds of journalists fled into exile and many started work within the mainstream Persian Media like the BBC’s Persian service and the US-based Voice of America (VOA) while genuinely independent journalists were unemployed  in Iran and in exile.

    We must remember that in regard to the recent arrests Iran accused the BBC of inciting unrest after the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009. The recent arrests were carried out on a “warrant issued by the judiciary”, on charges of “co-operation with Persian-language anti-revolutionary media” in the run-up to another so-called election in the Islamic Republic.  I do not want to restate the accessible information you can simply find on the topic in the mainstream media reports like the Guardian or BBC or the statement of the Reporters Without Borders or the statement of Amnesty International in this short piece.

    Nevertheless it  goes without saying that we are faced with a brutal theocracy.  Political Islam the curio of imperialism in the cold war era to a geopolitical country in the Middle East called Iran which is not much about Islam and Islamism – faith and ideology anymore and much more about  the neoliberal economic policies. This is a regime that has carried out systemic violation of human rights whilst overseeing extensive economic and social crises. Although on the other hand the ongoing dispute between the regime and the so-called international community through the propaganda apparatus of both sides the real situation facing millions of Iranian has been lost amid the ongoing hue and cry. The thing is both sides have their infantries in this political exercise and there is no getting away from that fact that the journalists are in the front line.

    The dispute between BBC Persian and Press TV

    As a matter of fact, there are two sides in this dispute, one composed of the US and its allies in the European Union who accuse Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons – without presenting even an iota of credible facts and supporting documents and try to get their share with a curt approach which is all about the nature of imperialism and the familiar story of domination and subordination – and on the other hand the Islamic Republic or more precisely a bunch of military leaders that have monopolised capital and power are striving to be accepted as a reputable member by the so-called international community.  Actually  recent dispute between BBC Persian and Press TV was just like a quintessence of the hostile relations between the two major propaganda blocs. Seeing a bunch of familiar gibberish and political extortion on BBC Persian and other mainstream services about the issue and in the same time reading the comments of many non Persian audiences in the website of BBC World Service about the issue could indicate the hypocrisy of the whole agenda of the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Islamic Republic  propaganda apparatus which has take advantage from the current capitalist crisis and vicious policies of the US and its allies. Actually there are many things to learn for those who want to see and go beyond the storm in a teacup and propaganda of both sides. One can see how the majority of the crème de la crème of Iranian society called journalists working  under Iran’s religious dictatorship during thirty-four years became like a bunch of blind pro West forces  and even many audiences of BBC World Service website are pretty aware about its hypocrisy. On the other hand I have acknowledged there is indeed considerable confusion about the nature of the Iranian regime and Iranian society in general.

    The untold story of independent and left-wing  journalists in Iran

    The fact is independent journalism has tried to exist under the Islamic Republic. The untold story of independent and the left-wing journalists who are not tolerated by the conservative, neo-liberal and “reformist” papers live under a cutthroat condition and the precarious existence has been lost in the rowdiness of recent events. So if we are talking about recent arrests we have not forgoten that it is all about the colleagues who are somehow in a specific network to have a chance to get a job and I have to emphasize that is not so different for journalists in the diaspora.  Right after recent arrests when I made a facebook status asking why with the current international pressure, the regime is willing to embark on widespread and public violence and rights violations?  What do the policy makers of the regime think? I mentioned the recent barbaric public executions which have a far-reaching echo in the western media and once again represented Iran to the large part of uninformed public opinion as a devil country providing or recent arrests of dozens of journalists in neoliberal reformist papers which  keep the pot boiling for the pro western activists in the diaspora, then I answered myself, it is the nature of the system. Though it seems the policy makers of the Islamic Republic are pretty sure that the brutal imperialist sanctions, as I expressed bringing the people of Iran to their knees, that the U.S and its allies can launch against them and more than the government  the ordinary Iranian people are the first and foremost victims of this intervention. Thus with this sureness they try to keep the focus on civil society by intensifying suppression of dissent as tactics and strategy to control the masses for the upcoming presidential election in June. The Supreme Leader’s representative to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) brazenly admitted to the “engineering” of Iran’s elections and presumably the upcoming process of the negotiation with the U.S.

    An addled new generation of Iranian journalists

    Moreover, trying to make a real face of what is going on in Iran today with all its paradoxes sometimes can be maddening for an independent journalist in the diaspora and  it is sad that you can barely find Iranian journalists, especially from the addled new generation who know where they have to stand in the midst of the international dust up. Regrettably, a large part of my colleagues have been lost consciously or unconsciously  becaming  a sounding board of the mainstream propaganda. Needless to say vested interest play a big role in this story. Especially being a non native English journalist in the diaspora to find a job beyond the mainstream media particularly the Persian mainstream media is a sad long story is another turn of the screw. So those working in the Persian mainstream media usually acquiesce to the demands of the international community and justify its imperialist agenda by the crimes of the Islamic Republic in Iran.

    We are faced with a new generation including journalists that during these calamitous 34 years have become pro-capitalism and  pro-western activists  and the irony is a lot of them do not even know what the nature of capitalism is. What does the term West mean in its political context and its ups and downs through the history and the tyranny of neoliberalism in today’s world? The superficial approach to the crucial issue of human rights is the objective they can go with and if you ask them about the political terminology of the current human rights discourse in the system which has been based on violent capital accumulation  usually you cannot  hear one word more than the things you hear every day in the corporate media .

    As I said before,  in 1988, during the massacre of political prisoners who were revolutionary radicals- a great potential for change, any one of whom could have played an alternative role in the future of Iran- not only were the prisoners physically eliminated, but all kinds of books about political philosophy were also published and promoted in the Islamic Republic that essentially refuted any form of aspiration and radicalism as being “ideological”.

    Arresting journalists  to “Engineering” an Election

    In short, as I mentioned earlier the story of arresting journalists in Iran is not something new in recent years. Especially  the widespread arrests of these kinds of journalists working for the “reformist” papers. I guess and hope they will release, probably some of them on bail soon and an achievement for the Islamic Republic security forces will be some kind of  scaremongering  in order to bully journalists into agreeing to avoid working with western media outlets, especially BBC Persian. The Islamic Republic will try to diminish any potential intervention of pro-west Persian language media in the diaspora in order to aid the “engineering” of the upcoming elections. The demand for the immediate release of Iranian journalists, labor activists and political prisoners in Iran is part of our internationalist duty but also how can we forget that on February 23rd Bradley Manning will have been imprisoned 1000 days without trial?!

    Given the current situation, the voice of the left and progressive forces of the world  must be in concord with the democratic struggle of the Iranian people and in opposition to imperialist schemes. They must open their eyes and have an active presence in public. This is what we can and must do at this moment.

    Remembering a prominent Iranian journalist on the 34th anniversary of 1979 revolution

    On the 34th anniversary of the incomplete 1979 revolution I want to end these synoptic and whirlwind lines in the memory of Rahman Hatefi (penname: Heydar Mehregan) a prominent Iranian Marxist journalist and political activist who was on the editorial board of the Kayhan newspaper. At the time of the 1979 Revolution, he played an important role in the publication of this newspaper. He was dismissed from his job during the purges in the spring of 1979. He was arrested on April 27, 1983 in Tehran and was taken to the Tohid Detention Center (previously known as the Joint Anti-Sabotage Committee).

    The details of Mr. Hatefi’s detention and interrogation are not known. He was reportedly subjected to enforced disappearance in prison. According to his co-defendants, he died due to torture sometime between April 27 and July 10, 1983. He is buried at Khavaran cemetery. Most leftist persons who were executed and buried at Khavaran are buried as “unknown individuals” and the exact location of the grave is unknown to their families.

    Soheil Asefi is an Iranian journalist in Berlin. He left Iran some years ago after  ten years professional experience in major Iranian media outlets. He had been in prison and was released on bail.   He came to Germany as the guest of the City of Nuremberg under the project ‘Writers in Exile’ funded by the German Pen Center. He is the recipient of the Hermann Kasten award in Nuremberg.


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