Frontline World


Iran, FORBIDDEN IRAN, January 2004



Read through archived FRONTLINE/World conversations around this story below.

Anonymous - Toronto, Canada
I commend Ms. Kokan on her BRILLIANT account and concise reporting. However, there was too deep an editing of the actual report! The degree of brutality and violation of basic human rights in Iran is so bad, that scenes such as stoning a woman to death, the tortured students, etc. were not shown! Simply said [more than] 85% of Iranians simply despise this regime and desire separation of religion & politics. The clergy and related mafia only understand one technique - very simple - mafia rule and mafia-like encounter. World help with U.S. leadership is appreciated for holding a free referendum in Iran.

Allen K. - Dallas, Texas
I am an Iranian, and all Iranians that I know of do not want this regime, and [an] overwhelming majority believe in separation of church and state. Before, I thought it is possible that I am only meeting like minded people and there may actually be a popular support for the current regime in Iran; However, [with] the overwhelming victory of president Khatami, who represented an opposition hard line religious establishment, I realized [that] over 80% (over 80% voted [for] Khatami, which in my view was voting for change) of people in Iran are against this regime, and are ready for change.

Michael Lobban - Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
What a tremendous achievement! A frequent visitor to the web site of the SMCCDI, I join hundreds of thousands of other young Americans who have been following the story of Zahra Kazemi, as explored by this and other news organizations. "Forbidden Iran" was about so much more than the outrage of Kazemi's murder, it was a remarkably mature and deft presentation that provided insight into events that are now making history. There are so many arguments as to whether Kazemi's story has gained too much attention, arguments that this individual is attracting the wrong kind of international sympathy, it seems to me, however, a proper introduction for anyone who isn't aware of the situation in Iran. There has been enough material documented in the immediate past to provide a more thorough investigation, yes, but these students, these people are fighting and suffering in such a way that requires a particular kind of documentation. Jane Kokan is that kind of journalist. As stories and news erupt daily, we are all so urgent to understand, and act, but understanding is the key, and "Forbidden Iran" is a good and decent place to start.

Cyrus Safdari - New York, New York
The Frontline story on Iran was very poorly done and pursued a particular political agenda to deny reformists and push the "another revolution" theory. The SMCCDI goup you've listed as a "prominent student group" has no relationship to the genuine student group in Iran whatsoever, and it was laughable for Ms Kokan to interview a self-described "Iranian intelligence agent" in Amsterdam without any effort at establishing his credentials as such. Note also that no other Iranian dissident group - not even Shirin Ebadi - has claimed that students are being "disappeared" as you claim.

Kaveh Afrasiabi - Palo Alto, California
I have a rather mixed reaction to the program. On the one hand, I was happy to see a decent coverage of the students' continuing struggle for democracy in Iran and the vicious brutality visited on them. Certainly, the producers should be lauded for their effort. On the other hand, as a political scientist I take exception to many superficial soundbites hurled at the reviewers throughout the program. For one thing, Iran today is not a "police state," if it were neither the dissidents would dare to give interviews in park and in a cab unafraid of covering their identities, nor the reporter would be able to "dodge her minder" as she repeatedly puts it. The "minder" turns out to be a tour guide and the reporter's ability to travel freely any where she wanted actually contradicts her labels thrown at Iran, a semi-democracy where unlike its neighbors has had regular elections and a thriving press more diversified than one sees in the U.S. capital (!) or New York, notwithstanding the dozen or so Tehran dailies representing various ideological creeds. It appears that talking about contemporary Iran's positive sides is forbidden in the U.S. press.

On another note, there were a few objectionable aspects to the program. At one point, we hear that the mother of a dissident has secretly taped her son's heroic comments in their kitchen, when the movement of the camera clearly shows that some one is behind the camera and that most likely the young man knew he was being taped. Second, the reporter's comment, about the attack on the dorms, that "as of this day no one knows how many people were killed" in the attack, is questionable: we do know, by student organizations themselves, that no one died in that attack, even though scores were seriously wounded by the vicious assault. Overall, this was a cross between anti-Iran propaganda and half-decent coverage of a young population struggling for democracy.

Ali - Vancouver, Canada
The program was great demonstration of [Iran's] Islamic government to the world. As a student who came to Canada a year ago, [I] could entirely connect to the whole situation and the program. Well done Miss Kokan. We, all free-spirited Iranians, hope that the world sees more pictures from the cage that the government [has] made for [the] Iranian people until we [can] have a democratic government governing the suffering state.

Alireza - Boston, Massachusetts
I am a thirteen year-old student in [Massachusetts]. I was very impressed with the main point of this presentation. Iran is a country locked in jail. But a jail like no other. This jail can only be opened from the inside. And I believe with the potential of the Iranian student's this is possible. In this presentation a clear message was sent to the audience, and this was the capability and admiration of the Iranian students. Day by day, Iran moves closer and closer to success. And the torture and murder of innocent Iranians fighting for freedom is just another sign of the brutality and inhumanity of the so called Islamic Regime. From my resent visit to the capital just months ago it was very clear the effects this regime has had on the people. The support for the regime is slowly fading and a new era of students has emerged and will hopefully stop this regime for destroying a culture and religion.

To hundreds of millions of young and old Iranians, your fight for freedom is greatly appreciated and one day our day will come, and the fight for freedom , a non-religious state and human rights will be won.

Danial Parsa - Washington, DC
Thank you PBS. The oppression of these corrupt Mullahs has been going on for more than 20 years now. It has killed so much of young Iranians' talents. They have ruined at least one generation. Please have more coverage of young Iranians' demonstrations which are simply asking for basic human rights and [a] REFERENDUM!!!

Majid Afkhami - Portland, Oregon
Please re-broadcast your program. I missed it. I am glad to see courageous reporters reflecting the suffering of my people in your program. The Mullahs [have] committed more crime than Saddam and Bin laden combined. I have lost my brother to this regime.

Editor's note:
For those who missed the broadcast, FRONTLINE/World "Forbidden Iran" can be viewed in its entirety in streaming video on the Web site.

Kayhan Najmabadi - Ann Arbor, Michigan
Bravo to Ms. Kokan for her courageous work and many thanks to PBS for broadcasting it.

Mehran - Vancouver, Canada
U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright acknowledged, for the first time, Washington’s involvement in the murky coup that ousted Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953, changing the balance of forces in the Middle East. Now they are experiencing the result of their actions in all over Middle East. A region without democracy. All we “Iranians” are asking is the west (especially Americans) leaving it to the people of Iran to bring democracy to their country. We are not interested in another American puppet or Ayatollah Kashani and we are capable of gaining democracy and drive the Mullahs out ourselves.

Sanaz - Montreal, Canada
I thought that the documentary was a real eye opener. Most Iranians know about these horrifying events that happen to our beloved students and people, but it was good to see that PBS showed the rest of the world what atrocities are happening in Iran and the struggle that the people are going through. We do not want he West to save us, we just want them to stop supporting the current regime, the people can take care of the rest. I congratulate Jane Kokan for her search of the truth and commend her for her bravery.

Aryan - New York, New York
As a woman of Iranian heritage I am grateful to you for this program.

Unfortunately, for the last twenty-four years the world has been deaf and mute in regard to this tyrannical so-called Islamic regime that has hijacked an ancient civilization. It is about time that the truth about this gang of corrupt and barbaric mullahs is told.

The powers that be and all those who advocate "dialogue" or "engagement" with this barbaric regime should see this film.

With my gratitude, and on behalf of million voiceless Iranians, you have my deepest appreciation for your presentation.


Lakewood, Ohio
I thought the documentary was very poor. I don't feel like I gained anything useful from it. So they talked to a few people, so what. You can go into any country and find people with the same views about their governments. I don't think the creator knows much about the history of Iran. I would suggest that she read upon the Mossadegh situation and the role the American and British media played in overthrowing him. a good book is "All the Shah's Men". And I would also refer you to the interview that was broadcast last night on PBS with Richard Perle, where he said that the US is spending a lot of money on radio broadcasts and other forms of media to help overthrow the current regime. if you were the Iranian gov't what would you do? Basically I thought the documentary wasn't well though out and was running on the fuel caused by the Zahra Kazemi outrage.

Nassim Bozorgmehr - Berkeley, California
There [is] oppression and lack of freedom going everywhere, even in the United States. If there is that much disdain that you are talking about there would have been a revolution long time age. During the Shah's regime, which was backed by the US. There [was] a lot more oppression, torture, persecution and execution but people came to street and revolution happened. It has been 25 years that many western countries are doing all they can to stir up an uprising in Iran, but it is not happening. That is because the level of opposition is very much exaggerated by western media and some US backed Farsi broadcasting services in the US. Iran is moving toward the path of democracy and does not need anyone to intervene. The true democracy is when everyone's voice is heard, hardliners, reformists and secularists. Democracy is not when something to the interest of West happens in Iran.

Tom Puchniak - Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Frankly I was disappointed. The film seemed to be as much about the journalist's journey as about the suppression of free speech in Iran. There were more shots of the journalist than of the country of its people. I don't deny the courage of someone going into this dangerous environment, but I regret she didn't come out with a more substantive report.

Kevin Shook - Dallas, Texas
The program was excellent. My complaint is that it was only 20 minutes long. The Western press should be ashamed of itself. The stories of the students in Iran should be frontpage news. The pictures of the tortured students should be on the front page of all the major papers and magazines. The European governments should be ashamed of their economic ties to the Regime in Iran. The U.S. should put pressure on the Europeans to stop their support of the Iranian Regime. Since 1979, the Iranian government has received over $500 billions in oil revenues. Who did that help? Certainly not the Iranian people. Just ask the 30,000+ who died in the Bam earthquake last month.

Phil Dragoo - Santa Fe, New Mexico
Your program Forbidden Iran was very compelling. Clearly the regime of Khamenei is a fascist abomination. The students--70% of Iranians are 30 or under--want democracy and freedom, but are beaten with clubs, hacked with machetes, imprisoned, tortured, and killed.

Free peoples everywhere should work for regime change in Tehran, removal of the mullahs, and immediate referenda for the new government.

Thank you for airing this important--and dangerous--report.

Arya Bakhtiar - Tehran, Iran
We the people of Iran, more than 80 percent of us do not want any type of Islamic Republic.

In the show our students told the world that we don't want any part of the Islamic Republic, reformed, or Islamic Democracy.

We want a secular democracy, and I'm angry at someone on here trying to call our students a 'liar' on the video for stating we want a secular government .

Reformist or Hard-line


Alireza - Boston, Massachusetts
I'm an Iranian student in U.S. and to me the show was very weak. I had seen some shows on PBS about Iran [which] were really powerful but this one really surprised me. The show seemed to be more about the bravery of reporter than trying to make the case. At the beginning she [talked] about military control everywhere in Iran and all the people and contacts were under control and in another scene she was talking on the phone with a political prisoner who was in prison at the time asking about the number of prisoners!!! Anyway, anybody who reads some newspapers in Iran can get much more information than the so called "Behind the scene" show.
I expect [from]PBS more than that.

Dr. A. Afzali - Los Angeles, California
Thank you PBS. This country needs desperately more programs like this one. We need to open the eyes of the American People about what is going on in Iran.

This was an EXCELLENT PROGRAM. Having said that, please see if you can give us different perspectives. This is a very intricate issue and it needs more in depth investigation and further broadcasting. Show us please what the different social classes think about the issue. There is a tendency on television to only show the point of view of the lowest social classes.

Soosan Kirbawy - Tacoma, Washington
I am very upset to see that such repression has continued in Iran. I had the mistaken notion that the Iranian government was softening, and wanted to reach out and begin dialogue with the world community.

As a U.S. citizen born in Iran, however, I think that the Bush administration is the absolute last party to be looked at for help. With them, the word "Help" is entirely suspect.

Our country overthrew their democratically elected president in 1953. As in Iraq and in Afghanistan we have perpetuated the effects of colonial repression/arrogance in Iran. The US seems to have learned nothing from the European history in those areas. The United Nations, the middle eastern coalitions, the European Union, ANY genuinely knowledgeable group (even our own State Dept.) would offer better support and be more palatable as advisors to the Iranians seeking a change. Please understand that we have no business advising anyone about the Middle East. Our track record speaks for it's self.

David Peng - Ann Arbor, Michigan
A bombshell story that should have been told much sooner. Thank you for telling it. I especially applaud the courage of reporter Jane Kokan.

My heart breaks every time I see or read about this type of oppression. However, we cannot be so arrogant as to think that the American way is the best way. Here in our own country we have similar atrocities, police brutality, child abuse, elderly abuse, controlled public info, Corporate irresponsibility, and racism. Change cannot occur in Iran until extremist Islamic leaders go back and read the Koran for the true message, which has never condoned this type of treatment of its followers. In addition, we as Americans have to stop trying to ram our immoral culture down other cultures throats. We are so quick to criticize other culture without knowing anything about them. In my opinion, we do not have all the answers but we sure seem to have all the money.

Anonymous - Foster City, California
As the parent of a college student my heart goes out to all the students held in prisons in Iran for protesting their government. These kids are very brave and are looking to the West for help, but as other respondents mentioned, what can we do that can bring about change that needs to come from inside their own culture. The US has made the mistake in the past that we know what's best or right in every situation. I'm afraid the Gandhi model will not work in the Middle East, so the students may have to increase their numbers until their numbers can't be silenced.

Marina Noori - Brentwood, New York
I have seen this program about the Iranians and I really felt sorry for the innocent young people who were beaten or even killed and they need to stop these mullahs. They also need democracy for a better life.

Anonymous - Edmond, Oklahoma
As an Iranian I must say the report by Ms. Kokan, although brief, was brilliant, courageous, and truthful. What was shown in the program about the Human Rights violation, torture and murder in prisons of the Islamic Regime is just the tip of the iceberg! However, I believe that a true democratic movement emerges from within the nation by the suppressed people, but the role of international organizations and watch groups in exerting pressure on Mullahs is extremely important. Frontline has done a great job airing the report and showing the world that people in Iran, especially students and younger generation, are tremendously suppressed by a tyrannical regime.

Abbas Samadi
You got it totally wrong. For a moment I thought I was watching a clip from North Korea. There is a great room for improvement of human rights and democracy in Iran, however, Iran is not a police state as it was put forward. I think Mrs. Kokan is trying to advance her own journalistic ambition with distortion and hup.

Manda Zand - Ellicott City, Maryland
The world should put a sanction on [Iran]. The world should do to the regime in Iran what they did to the apartheid regime in South Africa. The mullahs are only there because the Europeans want them there for their economic interests.

Anonymous - Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Congratulations Jane Kokan. You are marvelously inspiring. Thank you for your courage. Zahra Kazemi did not die in vain. The truth is and will be told and eventually, that is what will prevail.

Anonymous - Cherry Hill, New Jersey
The Iranian people are ready for real democracy and this time they know better than to let religion mix in with politics. I believe that foreign governments, especially many of the European countries, which have great economic ties to Iran, should place political pressure on the Islamic government to stop the repression of students and journalist. This can truly speed up the process of modernization in Iran. I believe that requesting a referendum is some what pointless, because the Mullahs know that agreeing to it would mean an end to their regime. However political pressure from the outside on things such as human rights has a real possibility of improving freedom in Iran and allowing the Iranian people to make the change from within.

I truly enjoyed this program mainly because it gave a clear picture of the repressive government under the religious rule of the Mullahs.

Ellen Brotherson - Hillsboro, Oregon

My, very arrogant your opinions sound. Are you saying that the people of Iran were not ready for "real democracy" in the 50's when the government of the USA thwarted, through the CIA „in an astonishingly undemocratic manner„the will of the Iranian people? And are you implying that we, in this nation, being free from the unfortunate mixture of religion and politics, (disregarding the blurring of those supposedly well-established boundaries by the current administration) may judge that the Iranians now "know better" than to do what we, despite more that 200 years of law and tradition, still cannot get right?

I feel awed and humbled by the sheer courage and sacrifice of the Iranians profiled: Zahra Kazemi, who has given the utmost in her pursuit of truth and freedom, the student activist and the dissident Arzhang, whose insistence that their faces be shown gives their statements undeniable power and authenticity, but who have thereby placed themselves in very great danger, and the imprisoned student leader, Amir Fakhraran, who will pay for his telephone connection with Jane Kokan in ways I cannot bear to imagine.

There is a very important role that we, as US citizens, have to play in this. Let us call upon our leaders to bring every possible means of influence (short of military intervention) to the support of the Iranian dissidents. If we love democracy, then we cannot let their sacrifices be in vain. And if we are not motivated by such altruistic notions, then consider that the establishment of democracy in Iran would do more for our national security than any amount of military force„especially if by our actions as a nation we were to win the trust and friendship of a democratic Iran. However, given past damages perpetrated by our government, friendship may be too much to hope for. But honorable and just action now would begin to neutralize some of the hatred and suspicion in which we are currently held.

Paul Condylis - Chicago, Illinois
The program was brilliant, the correspondent and crew courageous beyond belief. The U.S., the world owe Frontline a huge debt of gratitude. You make me feel we are civilized, and there is hope for us.

Banafsheh Pourzand - Brooklyn, New York
My father Siamak Pourzand is one of the journalists currently in prison in Iran. I commend Ms. Kokan on her BRILLIANT account and concise reporting. I'm grateful that a western reporter FINALLY told it like it is. HOWEVER, Ebadi did not deserve the mention as she sold the people of Iran out in favor of her 15 minutes of fame.

Very poignant story! Courageous reporter like the courageous student reformers.

Aamir Ali - Knoxville, Tennessee
This documentary sounded eerily similar to what was being said about Iraq, and the demonization of the country before the war. One of the reasons the Iranian government keeps close tabs of foreign journalists is because they come to Iran with pre-conceived notions and stereotypes and then all they want is for confirmation of that view. Being an Iranian I will say one thing that no one wants the Islamic Republic to end, but they do want it to be more democratic and to ease social restrictions.

Anonymous - San Diego, California
Mr. Amir Ali, I can only wish that even people like you will eventually wake up and realize that this Islamic regime has had no benefit to anyone except to the mullah's deep pockets. The abuse of the people, the theft of the natural resources, the support of international terrorism apparently is not adequate enough for the likes of you. If you are so confident about the wants of the people within Iran why then is there such a resistance to allow the people to express their rights as a human being and choose their faith and future. I hope to God that even people like you wake up soon because too many people are being devastated and abused so that Mullah's like Rafsanjani and likes can become multi-millionaires.

Amir Bozorgmehr - Los Angeles, California
As an Iranian who still lives in that country, I suggest people like you to come back and stay for year or two and then tell others that "no one wants to end [the] Islamic Republic". To the contrary the majority of people in Iran are looking forward to see the end of this ruthless regime. Come and see how our people suffering on a daily basis. Of course it is easy for you to support this regime when you live in United States. GET REAL.

Anonymous - Beverly Hills, California
All governments that practice democracy should exert economic and political pressure on the cleric leaders of Iran to accept the inevitable freedom to speak inherent in all human beings. I applaud FRONTLINE/World for beginning the dialogue.

Ed Davis - Lancaster, Texas
The world should definitely support the Iranian freedom movement, but as those Iranians who are actively engaged in the search for change say themselves, the West should not engage directly by military force.

The movement for democracy in Iran must evolve and be realized by the Iranians themselves. Our experience in the United States should remind us that democracy can not be enacted by force from outside. After years of abuses the colonists could no longer endure the King's tyranny and threw him off. Our U.S. democracy endures because this history is an integral part of our culture.

It must also be the case in Iran that after years of abuse and repression at the hands of a tyrannical government that the Iranians themselves arise and throw off tyranny. Only in this way will the love of freedom and the rejection of tyranny become an integral part of Iranian culture and endure.

What role should the rest of the world play then? I believe we should provide avenues of expression and information for those who are engaged in the quest for liberty within Iran. We need to let them know they are not alone and that we support their efforts.

Anonymous - New York, New York
Before and after revolution we had always had political prisoners in Iran. Outside governments should not interfere with Iran's political situation. Only through inside and outside human rights activists who have no governmental connections a change can happen inside Iran. Iranians are suspicious of world western governmental powers. Only Iranians in Iran and human rights activists can bring change. In addition, reports such as your program can help a little bit in the slow process of change.

Cassandra Nunez - Crowley, Texas
I watched the show and i was so grateful that i was born in the U.S. My heart and prayers are with the suffering people of Iran. More towards the women than anything. I know one day that Iran will be a free place, but it will take time. Never give up hope.

Aryo B. Pirouznia - Addison, Texas
Ideological or theocratical regimes can't be reformed. The persistent repression and the degradation of the situation in Iran are the best proves of the collapse of the so-called reforms within the Islamic republic regime.

More than ever, Iranians and particularly their growing "Third Force" are looking toward the current US Administration in order to bring its moral support of their legitimate aspirations.

They wish to see a much more clear indication that the totality of Bush administration is supporting them in their endeavor of reaching Secularity and Democracy. And they seek, mainly, the US pressure on the theocratic regime's European partners in order to stop helping the finances of the Islamic republic regime and to support Iranians true aspirations.

Iran's Freedom and the emergence of a Secular, Democratic and Accountable regime is the key to peace, stability and progress in the region.

Shel Epstein - Wilmette, Illinois
TNX for broadcasting this important and scary story. It further highlights the wisdom of those who teach that non of us are free until all of us are free. I continue to feel blessed that I was born in the USA.

Robert Roselle - Los Angeles, California
Lasting change can only occur from within Iran - when the true patriots of Persia rise up to reclaim their land from the ruling theocrats. Only they can decide their destiny, and when they have had enough of fear and oppression.

Bodazey - Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Since when has outside intervention been good for any developing countries' democrac[ies]? Democracy comes from within, not with U.S. built daisy cutters. Iran needs TIME and nothing else,that is if the cowboys in the White House can tame their horses.