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Courageous & Principled: Journalists Isa Saharkhiz and Ahmad Zeidabadi

by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles

21 Nov 2009 09:3812 Comments
DrHosseinFatemi.jpg[ profile ] Nov. 10, 2009, marked the 55th anniversary of the execution of Dr. Hossein Fatemi (1919-1954), the distinguished Iranian journalist who served as Foreign Minister during Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh's premiership. After the CIA/MI6 coup of 1953 restored Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to the throne, the coup government arrested many of Mossadegh's close aides and allies. Among them, almost no one angered the Shah or the British more than Fatemi, who advocated the nationalization of Iran's oil industry and was an ardent supporter of Mosaddegh.

Fatemi was born in Nain, in the province of Isfahan in central Iran. He obtained his Ph.D. in France in 1948. After returning to Iran, he was instrumental in founding the newspaper Bakhtar (West) in Isfahan. Bakhtar was later moved to Tehran and became the mouthpiece of Mosaddegh's political group, the National Front. Fatemi, a close Mosaddegh aide and a Tehran deputy to the Majles (parliament), was a leading member of the National Front. He soon became a strong critic of the Pahlavi Dynasty, criticizing the Shah and his family candidly in his editorials.

Fatemi was only 33 when he served in Mossadegh's cabinet as the Foreign Minister. He was the youngest person to take up such an important position in the history of modern Iran. It was Fatemi who proposed the nationalization of Iran's oil industry. The fundamentalist Islamic group, Fadayan-e Islam, tried unsuccessfully to assassinate both him and Mossadegh.

t_bakhtiar.jpg At the time of his execution, Fatemi was suffering from a fever and the injuries he sustained from the attempted assassination on his life. In his will, he appointed Mossadegh as the guardian of his only son, Cyrus. Today, a large street in Tehran is named after him and he is respected by all Iranian patriots.

But Fatemi is not the only Iranian journalist who has been a victim of oppression and repression. Over the past century, Iran has been one of the most difficult places for any journalist to work. Hundreds of Iranian journalists have been jailed over the past century, many of them have been murdered or even executed, and hundreds more have gone into exile, either voluntarily or by force.

The situation greatly deteriorated in April 2000 when Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered a harsh crackdown on the Iranian press (see below). Since then, at least 250 newspapers, weeklies, and other publications have been closed, and harsh censorship has been imposed. It deteriorated further after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected the President in 2005. And it has continued to spiral down since the rigged June 12 presidential election and the nationwide demonstrations and protests that followed. Many leading reformist journalists and bloggers have been arrested and imprisoned. While all the journalists who have been arrested have demonstrated courage in the face of the harsh crackdown, two of them particularly stand out: Isa Saharkhiz and Dr. Ahmad Zeidabadi.

This article is dedicated to the two of them.

Isa Saharkhiz

6490_101738296228_101438616228_2136906_2365889_n.jpgIsa Saharkhiz was born in 1953 in Abadan, in the province of Khuzestan, in southwestern Iran. His family moved to Karaj, a town 40 km west of Tehran, when he was six years old. He finished high school in Karaj, passed the national entrance examination for admission to Iranian universities, and began studying economics at the University of Tehran. He graduated in 1979, and for three years, he was active in the movements that had begun after the Revolution to increase the rate of literacy, and to reconstruct the rural areas.

He was then hired in 1982 by IRNA, Iran's official news agency, as a reporter and economics expert, where he worked for a decade. In the last two years of the war with Iraq, he reported on Iran's military operations directly from the front line. During most of that decade, Mohammad Khatami was the Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance (Ershad) to Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, and earlier, President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. IRNA is officially controlled by Ershad, a connection that began the friendship between the two men.

Due to his progressive policy as the head of Ershad, Khatami came under harsh attacks by the right-wing reactionaries, particularly those in the Islamic Coalition Party (ICP), the dominant political group of that era. Khatami had reduced the harsh censorship in effect in the 1980s; allowed the publication of several important dailies, weeklies, and monthlies; and helped foster Iran's film industry, after being dormant for much of that dark decade. Khatami resigned in 1992, in protest, and was replaced briefly by Ali Larijani (currently the Majles Speaker) and then by Mostafa Mirsalim, a member of the ICP. Mirsalim was such a reactionary that he ordered certain words, phrases and passages to be deleted from literary Persian masterpieces, simply because he had found them to be offensive to his reactionary interpretation of Islamic teachings.

After Khatami resigned, Saharkhiz moved to the United States for five years to run IRNA's office in New York. When Khatami was elected President in a landslide in 1997, he appointed Ataollah Mohajerani, a deputy in the 5th Majles, as the Minister of Ershad; and Ahmad Bourghani (1959-2008) as his principal deputy. In turn, the two put Saharkhiz in charge of domestic publications. That began a period of relative freedom of the press in Iran known as the Tehran Spring (named after the Prague Spring of 1968), during which many reformist publications sprung up. Many past state crimes were brought to light, and the vast scale of corruption was brought to light. Bourghani and Saharkhiz are considered the architects of that brief "Tehran Spring."

In addition to helping reformist publications flourish, Saharkhiz was also instrumental in helping the establishment of professional societies for Iranian journalists. Thus, the Society of Iranian Journalists and its offshoots, such as the Society of Young Journalists, Society of Women Journalists, and Society of Freelance Journalists, were formed. Those societies helped journalists fight for their rights, particularly their economic rights, and helped them with issues related to job security and unemployment.

Among the dailies that began publishing at that time was Zan (woman), founded in July 1998 by its editor and publisher, Faezeh Rafsanjani, the daughter of the former President. She was a political maverick who received the largest number of votes in Tehran in the elections for the 5th Majles. Hers was the first newspaper in Iran dedicated almost exclusively to women. Zan began discussing certain issues of importance to women that were considered taboo. It succeeded in positioning women at the center of Iran's political struggle between modernists and conservative traditionalists. From almost the very beginning, Zan came under harassment of the judiciary, which was controlled by the hardliners. At one point, a Zan reporter, Camelia Entekhabifard, was arrested and jailed for 76 days. Zan was finally banned in 1999.

The judiciary used the ban on Zan as an excuse to go after Saharkhiz. It had already closed several other popular dailies, such as Jame'eh (society) and Tous. Under huge behind-the-scene pressure from Ayatollah Khamenei, Bourghani resigned in February 1999, followed by Saharkhiz's resignation after Zan was banned. The resignation began a feud between Saharkhiz and Ayatollah Khamenei that has persisted to date. Four years later, in 2003, the judiciary put Saharkhiz on trial, "convicted" him, and banned him from working for the government for one year.

After Saharkhiz left Ershad, he founded the daily Akhbar-e Eqtesad (economic news), which had a reformist and critical view of the management of Iran's economy. Since even at that time a large part of the economy was controlled by the hardliners, the critical reporting and analysis that Akhbar-e Eqtesad provided did not ingratiate him to the hardliners.

In February 2000, the reformists swept the 6th Majles elections and dominated the parliament. The reformist newspapers that had begun publishing when Saharkhiz was at the helm of the domestic press at Ershad played a key role in the victory. Most importantly, a list of candidates that had been supported by the reformist newspapers was elected overwhelmingly, demonstrating people's trust in the newspapers. The elections also revealed how isolated the hardliners really were.

On Friday, April 14, 2000, during Friday prayers at Tehran University, Ayatollah Khamenei praised "lawful violence" against what he called "agents of the enemy." This was after a carefully orchestrated nationwide uproar by the conservatives against the journalists who had attended a conference in Berlin to discuss the future of reform and democracy in Iran. The Bazaar (the main commercial center) was told to close in protest, and the seminaries held rallies and closed in protest.

On April 20, 2000, Ayatollah Khamenei spoke at a large gathering of Basij forces [the militia force controlled by the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC)]. He declared that, "10 or 15 newspapers are being directed from the same center, and are the bases of the enemy. They are performing the same task as BBC radio and Voice of America, as well as British and American and Zionist television. This is a form of charlatanism."

That speech was essentially the order to close reformist publications. Abbas-Ali Alizadeh, the judiciary chief of Tehran at that time, said "the Supreme Leader had been really hurt by what these [reformist] publications were publishing and, therefore, we needed to take action." On April 23-24, fourteen reformist publications were closed by the judiciary. They included the dailies Gozaresh-e Rouz (the day's report), Bamdad-No (the new morning), Aftab-e Emrouz (today's sunshine), Payam-e Azadi (the message of freedom), Fath (victory), Arya, Asr-e Azadegan (the era of free thinkers), Azad (free), Sobh-e Emrouz (this morning), and Akhbar-e Eqtesad, Saharkhiz's daily. Also banned were the weeklies Payam-e Hajar (message of Hajar), published by Azam Taleghani, daughter of Ayatollah Seyyed Mahmoud Taleghani [1911-1979] (a progressive and widely popular cleric), Aban, Arzesh (value), and the monthly Iran-e Farda (the Iran of tomorrow).

But like all other Iranian reformists, Saharkhiz did not give up journalism and continued his struggle against repression. He founded the reformist monthly Aftab (sunshine) in December 2000. In its inaugural issue, Aftab pronounced itself "a tribune for dialogue on various subjects, but focusing mainly on reforms and democracy." Some of the most important political and literally figures published their work in Aftab, helping it become a replacement for two important monthlies that had been closed by the hardliners.

One was Kian, a monthly that had been founded in November 1991 by Mostafa Rokh-Sefat, Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, and Reza Tehrani, who were all influenced by the political thinking and philosophy of Dr. Abdolkarim Soroush, a chemist by training and one of the most influential Islamic thinkers and reformers in the world. Many reformist journalists who emerged during Khatami's first term in office worked either with the daily Salaam, under the editorship of Abbas Abdi, or Kian, or both. The hardliners banned Kian in 1998 and Salaam in 1999. The other one was Iran-e Farda of Ezzatollah Sahabi, a long time democracy advocate who has been jailed by both the Shah and the Islamic Republic, and who leads the opposition Nationalist-Religious Coalition (NRC).

But, as usual, the hardliners did not tolerate Aftab either. After 35 issues, Aftab was also banned by the hardliners in June 2004. The reason given for its closure was that it had "insulted" Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Saharkhiz began writing for other publications. He had a regular column on the online daily, Rooz, for which he continued to write until his arrest in July.

One of the most memorable incidents involving Saharkhiz and the hardliners occurred in May 2004. In a meeting of the council that monitors the Iranian press, Saharkhiz, who was representing the owners and editors of the press, confronted Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehei, the hard-line cleric who was at that time the Prosecutor of the Special Court for the Clergy [an illegal extra-judicial and extra-constitutional court for controlling dissident clerics]. Ejehei was the representative of the judiciary to the council [he is currently the Prosecutor-General of Iran].

During a debate about an article that had been published in a weekly about relations between the sexes, Ejehei made disparaging remarks about the reformists. Saharkhiz objected to the remarks and said they were an insult against himself and intellectuals. He also challenged Ejehei to take a poll to see who was more popular among people, him and the hardliners, or the reformists.

Ejehei responded by first throwing heavy objects at Saharkhiz, then biting him. The bite mark was glaringly visible when Saharkhiz showed it off to reporters. He took Ejehei to court over the incident, but the case was referred to the Special Court for the Clergy and the case never went to trial -- for obvious reasons.

Saharkhiz is a founding member of the Society for the Defense of Freedom of the Press (SDFP) in Iran. The SDFP has been outspoken in its opposition to censorship and press suppression, and the constant harassment and imprisonment of journalists. Saharkhiz was instrumental in establishing the Golden Pen award [named after an award with the same name given by the Association of World Journalists]. The SDFP awards the Golden Pen every year to a person who has taken important steps to defend the freedom of the press in Iran. Among past recipients are Hossein Ansari-Rad, the cleric and reformist deputy to the 6th Majles who did important work from 2000 to 2004 on behalf of freedom of the press; Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri; and Akbar Ganji, the courageous investigative journalist (who currently lives in the United States).

Saharkhiz is one of the first journalists (if not the first), who directly targeted Ayatollah Khamenei in his writings. He wrote often about the direct role that the Ayatollah plays in all the important decisions that the hardliners make to confront reformists and engage in repression of Iranians. He said often that the reformists must confront the Ayatollah directly, which deeply angered the hardliners.

On Saturday, June 13, the day after Iran's rigged presidential election, security agents raided Saharkhiz's home, threatened his 19-year-old daughter Mahtab (a student at the University of Tehran), and seized computers, CDs, and personal notes of Saharkhiz. On June 20, he was summoned to the court by Saeed Mortazavi, the notorious Tehran Prosecutor at that time, but Saharkhiz refused to go to court; he told Mortazavi that he was traveling.

On June 20, 2009, Saharkhiz was arrested in northern Iran. Three days before his arrest, he had told Der Spiegel, the German weekly, "I am on the run and change homes all the time. I turn on my mobile phone only one hour each day, because they can trace me and arrest me." It appears that that was exactly how the security agents located and arrested him. He also declared that Ayatollah Khamenei was the principal decision maker in staging the election coup. He said that people will not give up until their rights are restored.

While in jail, Saharkhiz's health has deteriorated. He is allergic to certain foods and takes medications for it. According to his son Mehdi, 27, who lives in New York, Saharkhiz's ribs were broken in the struggle that took place during his arrest. Saharkhiz has told his family that he expects to be in jail for a long time. He has also urged people to file a lawsuit against Nokia, the company that sold the hard-line government the technology to trace and hunt down anyone it wanted.

Right before he was arrested, Saharkhiz said,

When we were young, one of our honors was that we would establish a government whose foundation will be "neither East nor West" [one of the main slogans during the early days of the 1979 Revolution], [and] its symbol peace and friendship. The mark of humanity of its citizens [was to be based on] what Hafez [(1320-1389) the great Iranian poet] taught us, namely, "comfort in the two worlds follows these words: Compassion for friends and tolerance for enemies." But what is happening these days [right after the rigged June 12 election], 30 years after the Revolution, indicates that this was just a dream for us young Muslims because the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic has proven that he is willing to do anything just to continue a little longer his dictatorial rule over people.

I know exactly how Saharkhiz feels.

Ahmad Zeidabadi

22_8806030524_L600.jpgAhmad Zeidabadi was born in 1965 in Sirjan in the province of Kerman, in south central Iran. He received his Ph.D. in international relations from the University of Tehran. The title of his doctoral thesis was "Religion and Government in Israel." Zeidabadi later published his thesis as a book with the same title. As a result of the research he conducted for his thesis, Zeidabadi became an expert on Israel and the Middle East. His views on Israel and its place and role in the Middle East have always been in sharp contrast with those of the hardliners and the official position of the Islamic Republic. That alone has angered the hardliners who are suspicious of any moderate views toward Israel.

Zeidabadi's career as a journalist began in 1989 right after the death of Ayatollah Khomeini. He joined Etela'at (information), the oldest daily in Iran. Since the 1979 Revolution, it has been led by its managing editor Mahmoud Doa'ei, a moderate cleric and member of the leftist clerical organization, the Association of Combatant Clerics. Zeidabadi worked there for a while.

In 1988, Gholam Hossein Karbaschi, who was Mayor of Isfahan in Central Iran, was appointed Tehran's Mayor. He is a reformist and is a close ally of former president Mohammad Khatami. Karbaschi was chief advisor to Mehdi Karroubi during his campaign as a reformist candidate in the rigged June 12 presidential election. As Mayor of Tehran, Karbaschi started publishing Hamshari [fellow citizen], the first newspaper in Iran in full color. Hamshari's editor at that time was Mohammad Atrianfar, another reformist and close ally of Khatami [he was arrested after the June 12 election and as of the time of writing this article was still in jail]. Zeidabadi left Etela'at and joined Hamshahri, which has a circulation of about 500,000. He became well-known and well-respected for his thorough and deep analysis of political issues.

Along with Salaam, Hamshahri played a key role in the victory of Khatami in the 1997 election. Karbaschi also authorized a loan of 250 million tomans (about $400,000 at that time) to the Khatami campaign. Karbaschi was arrested in April 1998, and Hamshahri was accused by the hardliners of illegally supporting Khatami because it was receiving government subsidies. Karbaschi was put on trial. The prosecutor and the judge was none other than Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehei, the same man who assaulted and bit Saharkhiz.

The trial was broadcast live on national television and watched by record audiences. At times the trial turned into a shouting match between Karbaschi and Ejehei, who was making baseless accusations against him. In reality, the trial was nothing more than an unsuccessful attempt by the hardliners to nip Khatami's program of reform in the bud. Even though Ali Mohammad Besharati, the conservative Interior Minister and Karbaschi's boss before Khatami was elected president, testified that Karbaschi had done nothing illegal, Karbaschi was convicted of corruption and misuse of funds in July 1998 and began serving a two-year sentence in May 1999, after his appeal was rejected.

While working with Hamshahri, Zeidabadi was also writing for the monthly Iran-e Farda. Politically, Zeidabadi has always been close to the Nationalist-Religious Coalition (NRC), and it was a natural progression for him to write for Iran-e Farda, which was being published by NRC leader Ezzatollah Sahabi. Zeidabadi was also the editor of the reformist daily Azad (free), published briefly for several months between 1999 and 2000.

On August 7, 2000, Zeidabadi was arrested by security forces. Saeed Mortazavi, the notorious hard-line Tehran Prosecutor said at that time that Zeidabadi had been arrested because he had refused to appear in court after being summoned. Just the day before, Ayatollah Khamenei had ordered the 6th Majles, dominated by the reformists, to set aside a piece of legislation that would have overturned the draconian press law that had been approved by the conservative 5th Majles in May 2000.

Zeidabadi was jailed for seven months in Evin prison, which included two months in solitary confinement (after solitary, he was transferred to the "Quarantine" section of the prison where drug smugglers and thieves are held). This is a tactic used by the hardliners to humiliate political prisoners. He was then transferred to the Amuzeshgah [re-education center] section of the prison, again to humiliate him. He was also jailed for a while in the notorious "Prison 59," a detention center controlled by the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, where detainees are beaten and savagely tortured. Zeidabadi went on a hunger strike for 12 days to protest his conditions in prison. He was finally freed on February 28, 2001.

On March 13, 2001, Zeidabadi was arrested again, along with 20 members of the NRC. Ali Mobasheri, head of Tehran's Revolutionary Court, said that those who had been arrested wanted to "topple the government" -- with their pens, apparently! The arrests took place just as Khatami was departing for Russia, a move widely seen as an effort to embarrass him. After Karroubi, who was then Speaker of the Majles, intervened, Zeidabadi was released on a $70,000 bail.

In 2002, Zeidabadi was put on a trial presided over by Mortazavi, the notorious prosecutor. He was given a sentence of 23 months for "propaganda against the Islamic Republic, disturbing public opinion, and acting against national security," all because Zeidabadi's deep and sharp analysis reflected a reality the hardliners didn't want to see, much less accept. Zeidabadi was also deprived of his "social rights" for five years, a vague term that can be interpreted in many ways. His sentence was reduced to 13 months on appeal, and he was jailed in notorious Evin prison on April 13, 2003. He served the full term.

According to Masoud Behnoud, a reformist journalist who now lives in London and was in jail at that time, Zeidabadi told his interrogator that, "'We are in the opposition. The law says that we can criticize [the power base], and perhaps we are willing to insult the Leader [Ayatollah Khamenei] in our criticism [as well] and are prepared to be punished for it.'"

In December 2002, the second nationwide elections for city councils were held. By then, many people were already disappointed with the slow pace of reform. In particular, the people of Tehran were greatly frustrated with its reformist-dominated city council whose members had essentially spent four years fighting one another. As a result, only 12% of eligible voters in Tehran voted in those elections. The result was that the new 16 members of the Tehran city council were all hardliners; they selected Ahmadinejad as the new Mayor.

Ahmadinejad appointed Mansoor Sheikh Attar [a chemical engineer] as the new managing editor of Hamshahri, who turned it into the mouthpiece of the hardliners around Ahmadinejad. Sheikh Attar promptly forced Zeidabadi out of Hamshahri in Spring of 2003. Sheikh Attar himself was later fired [presumably for not being enough of a hardliner!], and is now Iran's ambassador to Germany.

In April 2007, Zeidabadi wrote an open letter to Ayatollah Khamenei. He said that he had wanted to write the letter while in jail, but decided against it because he did not want the letter to be interpreted the wrong way. He asked why criticism of the Ayatollah's decisions and actions were banned in Iran. He asked him why the Iranian people must hold the same views on Iran's nuclear program as the Ayatollah's. Zeidabadi said that the people were concerned about the issue and its implications for the future of Iran, and that, due to the importance and sensitivity of the issue, people within the political establishment should be allowed to hold different views [than the Ayatollah's] and express them freely. The letter deeply angered the hardliners.

In 2007-2008, Zeidabadi worked with the weekly Shahrvand-e Emrooz [today's citizen], which was later banned by the hardliners. He also began writing regularly for Rooz [day], the online daily published in Europe. Many of his columns were devoted to the Middle East and Israel, his areas of political expertise.

Zeidabadi is also a member of the board of directors of the Society of Iranian Journalists. He was also a member of the policy committee of the Organization for University Graduates of Iran, known as Advaar-e Tahkim-e Vahdat (ATV). The ATV represents a group of former university student activists and has been an outspoken critic of the hardliners. Many of its leading members have been repeatedly arrested. In January 2008, Zeidabadi was elected president of the ATV.

In one of his first articles about the presidential election of June 12, published two months earlier, Zeidabadi wrote, "I believe that the failure of the reformists in recent elections has been due to two factors. One is that every reformist party selects a candidate internally, without consulting other reformist groups, and then asks other groups to support that candidate. The second reason is that the reformists have been unable to convince influential groups [to support their candidates] or even participate in the election."

When it appeared that Khatami may run for the presidency again, Zeidabadi urged him not to run. In an article on that topic, he wrote that Khatami was a cultural figure, not a political one, and that he would be unable to lead a complex country like Iran. He said that running for president may hurt Khatami's credibility with the people. In my opinion Zeidabadi was wrong on the issue; it was Khatami who most terrified the hardliners [Ayatollah Khamenei forced him out of the election]. But Zeidabadi's honesty in expressing such an unpopular view was truly admirable.

Zeidabadi and the ATV then tried to convince Abdollah Nouri to run. Nouri, Khatami's first Interior Minister and a close aide and confidante of Ayatollah Khomeini, was an outspoken critic of the hardliners and was jailed for more than three years. Nouri was willing to run, provided that there was a consensus among the reformists about his candidacy. But the most important reformist parties -- Islamic Iran Participation Front, Islamic Revolution Mojahedin Organization, and Executives of Reconstruction -- were not willing to support Nouri's candidacy; they were afraid that the Guardian Council, the Constitutional body that vets candidates for most elections, would reject his candidacy. The National Trust Party, another reformist group, had already nominated Karroubi as its candidate.

The ATV, led by Zeidabadi, tried to hold discussions with the two leading reformist candidates, Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi. It presented the two with a list of demands, and asked the candidates to address them. Mousavi never responded to the list. After extensive discussions between the ATV and the Karroubi camp, the ATV formally endorsed his candidacy, and was very active in his campaign.

Almost immediately after the rigged election, Zeidabadi was arrested. For 17 days he was held in a cell no larger than 1 by 1.5 meters. He went on a hunger strike for another 18 days in solitary confinement. For 35 days he was held alone in absolute silence in a completely silent part of Evin prison, cut off from any communication whatsoever with the outside world. The absolute silence affected him so much that, according to his wife Mrs. Mahdiyeh Mohammadi, he wanted to commit suicide.

Since then, he has been savagely beaten in jail in order to force an apology out of him to Ayatollah Khamenei for the open letter that he wrote. He has been beaten for referring to the Ayatollah as the "leader," as opposed to the "Supreme Leader," in his letter. Mrs. Mohammadi has said that her husband's interrogator has told him that, "'We will crush you here. We will not allow you to leave the prison as a hero.'"

110kb44.jpg One of the "offenses" that Zeidabadi has been charged with is trying to persuade Abdollah Nouri to run for president [which goes to show how the hardliners view Nouri]! Another "offense" is that he has characterized the conservative newspapers as those "that bow to and praise the power [of the hardliners]." Although a bail has been set for him, and the Prosecutor General has issued the order for his release three times, he still has not been released after more than four months in custody, simply because the true powers that act behind the scene do not want him to be released.

As the ATV said in a recent statement, "The unforgivable 'offense' of Zeidabadi is that, although oppressed, he is willing to sacrifice his life for his ideals of freedom and respect for human rights. His 'offense' is that he has called on those centers of power that have most of the power to exhibit a bit of responsibility [toward people]."

Zeidabadi and his wife, Mahdiyeh, have three children, Parham, Parsa, and Pouya. Mahdiyeh's parents were active against the Shah and imprisoned by his government. As she told Saeed Mortazavi, "I was in jail even when I was a 3-month-old baby, when my parents had been imprisoned. You cannot scare us of jail." Many of Zeidabadi's articles can be found here.

One clear indication that the hardliners have nothing against both Saharkhiz and Zeidabadi is that, in the long litany of "offenses" that the prosecutor read out during the Stalinist show trials of the reformist leaders -- he accused most of them of having links to, or acting on behalf of foreign powers -- the name of the two never came up. The two of them have such a clear and distinguished record that even the hardliners were unable to find a minor "stain" on their record.

Copyright © 2009 Tehran Bureau

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12 Comments

In addition to these men, I would like to remind people of the continuing detention of Saeed Leylaz - a fine man who openly criticized Ahmadinejad's destructive economic policies. For Leylaz to share prison cells with criminals is an insult to himself and an insult to our intelligence. The real criminals are the officials who have the balls to stand up, in front of their nation, and declare these men as mohareb and anti-revolutionary. If that is the case, what exactly did our revolution constitute? And who gives them the right to accuse these men of fighting against God, when they themselves either support or turn a blind eye to the rape, torture and murder of our citizens? Who is their God?

Dr. Sahimi - thank you for another interesting article.

Sam / November 20, 2009 11:43 PM

As a 59 years old Iranian I have experienced Iran of the Shah and Iran of the Islamic Republic as an adult.How can anyone even compare the two is beyond me.We did not have the freedom of the West a)We wwere not mature enough politically as a nation (What is that got to do with the Shah since Iran needed time and lots and lots of education.) b)During the cold war Mossadeqh clearly failed to persuade the West he could handle the communists.The late Shah of Iran inherrited a country backward in every sense of the word.Iran did not have the technical know how to run the oil industry without the Brits anyways.Mossadeqh strategy was doomed to failure regardless.Study Iran of that era.The level of education, economy and the her society as a whole.Iran could not sustain all these unrealistic claims.I will not claim the Shah of Iran did not have his faults, but take a realistic and fair look at the country at that time.The Pahlavi dynasty truly served Iran and in 1979 the correct approach would have been to reform the political system rather than passing it blindly to the most backward group in Iranian society, the mullahs.It was clearly a mistake on our part.

Iraj T. / November 21, 2009 1:07 AM

I am soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo sick of these Pahlavi and Shah lovers. Enough already. If Shah had done enough to reform the backwarded Iran as Iraj. T writes, maybe 1979 revolution would have been a reform movement and mainly changes to the political system of Iran. I hate the current regime. Any sane human being would hate the current regime but for god sake accept that most Iranians do not, I repeat do not wish for someone like Shah, or desire a king or queen or any dynasty. I too have experienced the
Iran of Shah and I did not experience any true freedom, democracy and justice in any of those years I lived in Iran. "Pahlavi dynasty truly served Iran"!!!!!! You must be joking. I remember very vividly that in our home in Iran
whenever we had political discussions and were angry at how Shah was running the country, my mother and father would plead with us to speak very softly and quietly in case some neighbor heard us or plead with us not to discuss any politics in public or say anything against Shah for the fear of informers (and there were enough of them around) or Savakis. This was just a very very small sample of life under Shah. Living in costant fear and not trusting one another. Millions of Iranians poured into streets 30 years ago and millions are doing the same thing 30 years after because none of these regimes have truly served the Iranian people. There was a reason 30 years ago for an uprising and there is even a much greater reason for uprising now.

Minoo / November 21, 2009 7:01 AM

this article contains the kind of detail that is desperately needed to counter the tsunami of propaganda and bogus information.two questions puzzle me. one is the %12 turnout mentioned for City Council elections ascribed to apathy and discontent at the pace of reform. It seems more likely that there were different forces at work and that a mini-coup took place.The other question regards Rafsanjani and his relationship to the reform gov,t of Khatami.How did he view it and what actions did he take to support it? Did he anticipate the present mess as Montazeri clearly did? Journalists in Iran are carrying out a superhuman task and it seems foreign journalists are not going to be absentthere for a while.I wish them superhuman strength in their efforts.

pirooz / November 21, 2009 1:12 PM

Minoo khaanoum:

I share your sentiments. It was the Shah who eliminated all the secular opposition, as well as moderate religious ones, such as the Freedom Movement og Mehdi Bazargan. It was the Shah who could not even tolerate the cartoonish parties, such as Iran-e Novin and Mardam, founded the quasi-fascist Rastakhiz, and declarted that, "anyone who dfoes not like this can get the passport and leave." Mesbah Yazdi said the same about the IRI a few years ago. It was the Shah who eliminated the relatively free press of Dr. Mosaddegh's era, and prevented political education of the people, revelation of corruption, and investigative journalism. This list can go on forever.

Saying that Iranian people were not competent enough to run their oil industry is an insult. The mythical communist threat is also invoked by monarchits to justify the anti-Iran CIA/MI6 coup in Iran. In order to glorify an illegitimate coup regime and its leader, the Shah, they attack a true national hero and treasure, Dr. Mosaddegh!

As I always say, regime-e velaayat-e faghih farzand-e khalaf-e regime pahlavi mibashad.

Muhammad Sahimi / November 21, 2009 7:13 PM

Dr. Sahimi,

Sir, with all due respect to your education and knowledge, I should say that you are still living in the ivory tower of 1970s propaganda as well as your cultural background: always blame someone for own's short-comings and never take responsibility for own's wrong doing, as well as either turn someone into a devil (ie the shah, reza shah, and other shahs) or a saint (ie khomeini, bazargan, mosaddeq, saharkhiz, zeidabadi, emam hossein). You are still embroiled into hatred of 1970s without allowing an ounce of reality to interfere. It maybe because that you have not lived in iran and you have not comprehended how western democracies work (or don't).

Shah did NOT eliminate Bazargan! He, unfortunately, survived to screw iran hard. Even Bani Sadr attests to that and blames him for where we are. Shah did not eliminate moderate mullas. Likes of Shariat-madari survived to let history know what kind of cowards they really were when they bowed to khomeini. Shah did NOT eliminate intellectuals. They survived to be eliminated by islamists (like Bakhtiar, Boromand, Foroohars, ...) or become part of the most brutal regime of recent iranian history (like Yazdi, Bazargan, ...).

Decent people never change from their core principles. And unfortunately there were very few -- too few to have any impact when revolution happened. Most that shah eliminated were those that were of the same crowd that we see today, islamists and leftists; had he eliminated likes of khomeini, maybe we would not be here today, and at worst, we would be like a persian gulf arab state that many iranians dream of living in today and beg their embassies to give them visas.

There were also good reasons for setting up Rastakhiz that apparently you are not aware of. Let me just paraphrase a patriot and democrat, dr. sediqi, who was imprisoned by the shah, but opposed the revolution, saying then that times of opposing the shah was over since those who were trying to gain power were far worse than the shah. Alas that he was right and the majority were so wrong.

Make a visit to distant villages of iran, and specially in the west and east of the country and listen to what they FEEL about shah/IRI on empty stomach. Giving a bunch of fanatic university students, who thought they had all the answers, was not a good reason for the shah to abandon iran; and when he did, it was us, the iranians who did not have the wisdom NOT to destroy our country.

Reza Bashi / November 22, 2009 11:33 PM

Mr. Bashi:

Thanks for your comments. Let me respond to that part of your comments that was substantive, because although you accuse me of living in the 1970s propaganda, you are doing exactly the same yourself from the opposite direction, and much of your comments are just that.

When I say Shah eliminated Bazargan, I do not mean physically. I mean as a force of moderation. When Bazargan and his "yaaraan" formed the Freedom Movement in 1961, in their first public statement, they said, "we are nationalist, we are muslim, and we are constitutionalist," meaning that they did not want to overthrow the Shah, but reform the system.

Same thing about moderate forces. Same thing about National Front. Was National Front allowed to be active? No, it was banned, and its leaders jailed, exiled, or silenced.

What was the good reason for establishing a quasi-fascist party like Rastakhiz? You mentioned there were good reasons that I am not aware of, but did not mention one. You are the first monarchist that I know in my long life that actually says that about Rastakhiz.

If Dr. Sedighi indeed said what you say he did, then he was wrong. If he really believed in that, why did he refuse to help the Shah by accepting to be the prime minister, when the Shah asked him to?

Muhammad Sahimi / November 23, 2009 6:31 AM

MUHAMMAD SAHIMI,
Why don't you do a piece about how Islam was spread in Iran? Look back deep into the roots of the problem.
I would like to know if majority of Persians accepted Islam with open arms. If so, then why 200 years of savage Arab attacks needed to finally shove Islam down Persian throats.
If Islam is a true god peaceful religion then why most magnificent libraries like Gondi Shahpoor was burned to ashes. Wasn't Omar a Mohammad Disciple? Didn't Omar spread Mohammad's way of living throughout Iran?

The problem in Iran was not the Shah, it was and is Islam. Islam a true religion of ignorance.

The problem with the Shah, he had multiple personalities and he was not able to make decisions on his own. But, when I compare him to Khomeini I see him as a lesser evil. Khomeini is the real Islam, mass executions, censorship, war, ignorance, isolation, disrespect to international laws and many more ignorant decisions.

On a personal note:
You want to censor my thoughts, go ahead I do not expect anything else from a practicing Muslim. After all you are following Mohammad's way. You regurgitate the vulgar Arabic verses that you even do not understand. Oh, by the way do you speak Arabic or can you write fluently in Arabic as you do in English and Farsi?

gooya / November 24, 2009 5:43 PM

Mr. sahimi, thank you for response which as always was very informative and educational. I am glad there is tehranbureau.com where people can share their thoughts and learn from each other. It is definitely one of the best sites for Iran news and analysis and I think that's the reason for its recognition by PBS/Frontline.

Look forward to more from you.

Minoo / November 25, 2009 5:20 PM

Mr. Sahimi and Minoo. As a youngster I never had the opportunity to experience the Pahlavi era however, I have access to books, electronic media and I have talked to many people from all walks of life and I can think. My conclusion is that I agree with the previous gentlemen who claimed, to compare the Pahlavi era to that of Islamic Republic is insane and in particular as a woman. Your claim that during the few years of Mossadeqh Iran was a democracy does not wash. Iranian people clearly did not have the educational background for democracy and you can not blame that on the Shah of Iran. The country did not have enough time for social changes of that magnitude. Social changes take generations. I am sure living next door to the Soviet Union in the midst of the cold war certainly did not help either. Also, it is quite clear everyone made mistakes, the Shah, Mossadeqh and later many intellectuals who in my opinion turned out to be political cowards when they handed the country over to a backward mullah on a silver platter i.e. Sanjabi and Bazargan.It is very disappointing to see even after 30 years of misery, Iranians of your generation still do not have the courage to admit they were wrong politically. The Shah and Mossadeqh are long gone and they are part of history now.The question is, where do you stand and what are you going to do for Iran? Enough of excuses, enough of talking about the past, enough of blaming the dead who can not defend themselves. What are you doing today??????? I am sure at the right time the people of Iran can vote for their choice of government, Monarchy or Republic. Minoo, you have no right to speak for the Iranian people. You have one opinion and one vote. I have talked to many people and in my opinion many Iranians would not mind the return of monarchy back to Iran and refer to the Pahlavi kings with kindness and gratitude. How do you explain that? Is it because their lives are so miserable today? You claim many people rallied against the Shah. I can see that however, many claim today they were misguided and were lied to and had they known better they would never take that course of action. How do you explain the millions who courageously put their lives in danger and chant,"Death to the Islamic Republic"? You are soooooooooo what? Don't you have the patience to hear anything other than those in your favor and yet you have the audacity to complain about the past? Perhaps we all need to grow up a little.

Farzaneh / November 25, 2009 11:39 PM

Farzaneh Khaanoum:

Your are entitled to your respected opinion. I have no problem with it, even though I believe it is totally wrong. Unlike what Gooya claims, no one censors anyone in this site.

But, the piece is not about comparing the Shah's regime with the IRI. It is about, and only about, what the IRI has done to two great courageous patriots.

I responded to a comment by Minoo khaanoum, and that provoked a couple of comments by others. Otherwise, this is not about the Shah.

Regarding Dr. Mosaddegh: Of course, we can all revise the actual history, rewrite it, skew it, etc., in order to fit it into OUR notion of history. But, let me make just a couple of observations and move on:

(1) Aside from a tiny minority - the monarchists -who, in order to "prove" that the Shah's rule was legitimate - which was not; it was a result of a CIA/MI6 coup - they attack, slander, insult, and fabricate lies about Dr. Mosaddegh, the rest of the world does not see it that way. It sees the history as it happened: A democratically elected government led by a popular, nationalist and patriotic Prime Minister, overthrown by foreign powers in order to continue their looting of Iran's natural resources.

(2) Let us accept your notion that in 1953 people were not educated and not ready for democracy (which is totally wrong; we already had good elections there by then). What about 1979? Either they were or they were not.

If they were, then, the Revolution must have been legitimate. No one can deny the fact that the Revolution was supported by a vast majority.

If they were not, then, the question is why? What was the Shah doing then for 25 years? Why did he not educate his people politically, so that they would not be "fooled" by a small band of dedicated revolutionaries?

You see, that is why I say, the regime of Velaayat-e Faghih is the legitimate child of the Pahlavi regime.

Muhammad Sahimi / November 26, 2009 5:13 AM

Ms. Farzaneh, I would like to thank you for your thoughtful posting. I commend you on your inquisitive and logical approach. I am a 76 years old retired engineer, an ex-employee of NIOC and a retiree of a Texas based oil company. Mr. Iraj T.'s comment on the inability of Iranians to run the oil industry at the time it was nationalized is quite true. At that time the number of qualified Iranian engineers in the industry did not exceed the number of your fingers and as the result the oil industry collapsed quite rapidly. This is a matter of record and can be researched easily. I job enabled me to travel extensively throughout Iran and based on my observation I can conclude the majority of Iranian people specially in rural areas were illiterate and devoid of any reasonable standards of living to enable them to have any contact with the central government on national events within the country. Iran was ranked as one of the most backward countries in the Middle East. Again, that is a matter of record and can be researched easily. My advice to young inquisitive Iranians such as yourself who are computer savvy is to use the immense knowledge base of the Library of Congress of the United States and the World digital library where you can gain first hand information about Iran and I am ashamed to say the sorry state of our country that the late Shah inherited. You mentioned social changes take time. You are absolutely right. Most of economic progress of Iran occurred in the late 60s through late 70s with a total budget 1/10 of what the Islamic Republic has earned in the last three decades. Iran 's status as one of the most backward Middle Eastern countries was changed to a leading developing nation with a net per capita income slightly ahead of S. Korea at that time. My generation should be ashamed of how much we have fallen behind comparatively as a nation in the last 30 years. Again, a matter of record. Research Iran vs. S. Korea. Was the Shah supposed to hold everyone's hands and educate them? What about the hundreds of thousands of students who traveled abroad for education during Pahlavi era? Could they not read a book in Europe or the United States? You mentioned and I quote, "It does not wash". You are absolutely right my dear. It does not. In the third world most events of national importance only take place in the capital cities since they represent the life line of those countries. The rest of the country has very little choice but to follow. Ayatollah's thugs confronted the people with one major question. A "Yes" or a "No" to the formation of the Islamic Republic. They also greeted you at the ballot boxes with guns in their hands and you were expected to go along. One only has to glance at the newspapers to figure out the consequences of refusal. The present government in Iran does not air Khomeini's speeches anymore since it does not take a genius to figure out his lies. Jebheieh Melli, Mujahedin and many leftists groups that had cooperated with Khomeini and his clan eventually became victims of their own ignorance which is evident of their miserable fate today. Can you point out a qualified Republican candidate? I am surprised Mr. Sahimi refers to monarchists as a tiny minority. That is far from the truth. Even the government of Iran has admitted among the opposition Mr. Reza pahlavi has the biggest support base or number of supporters inside and outside the country. This clearly explains why he is always targeted. Let us be fair and balanced and refrain from misleading the general public. Read, research and seek out the truth. God bless your generation for you are the future of our country. Payandeh bashid.

Kashani / November 27, 2009 1:31 AM