Video | Journalist Masoud Bastani on Returning to Jail
by PAUL MUTTER and SHIRIN B.
13 Oct 2012 00:26
"It would be great if all of us stand up for these journalists and become their voice."
Masoud Bastani and his wife, Mahsa Amrabadi. Bastani during his show trial in autumn 2009.
[ close-up ] Tehran Bureau presents an English translation of Masoud Bastani's videotaped remarks to his wife and the Iranian public made on September 21, just a few hours before he was obliged to return to prison to serve out the three remaining years of his six-year sentence on anti-state charges. Originally held in Tehran's Evin Prison, Bastani, 34, has been incarcerated since January 2010 in Rajaei Shahr Prison in Karaj, 12 miles west of the capital. He was granted a furlough, which began on September 9, to receive medical treatment; he also managed to secure a visit to Evin to see his wife, journalist Mahsa Amrabadi, who is serving a one-year sentence there.
Bastani, who wrote and edited for several reformist media outlets, including the Neda-ye Eslahat weekly, the Etemaad, Toseeh, and Farhikhtegan dailies, and the Jomhoriyat and Roozonline websites, was first arrested in 2005 for covering a protest in support of the imprisoned journalist Akbar Ganji, then on hunger strike. Bastani's reporting on Iran's pro-democracy movement and willingness to give interviews to foreign outlets such as Reuters continued to make him a watched man. After the protests following the June 2009 presidential election, agents of the Intelligence Ministry came to his house with an arrest warrant for him; finding only Amrabadi, who had written for the reformist Etemad Melli newspaper (now banned), they arrested her. Bastani was detained on July 5, when he went to the Revolutionary Courts to inquire about his wife's status.
Amrabadi was released after two months on $200,000 bail. Bastani was prosecuted in one of the many group show trials held by the Revolutionary Courts following the violent suppression of the election protests. Like the other journalists, politicians, and activists subjected to those trials, he was not allowed to communicate with his own lawyer. In October 2009, Bastani was sentenced to six years in prison for "propaganda against the regime and congregating and mutinying to create anarchy."
Amrabadi, as well, was ultimately convicted of propaganda and other anti-state charges and sentenced to five years, four of them suspended. At liberty during the appeal process, she wrote a letter to her husband during Nowruz 2010 that was published in the International Herald Tribune:
It's so hard that you are not there.... Your absence hurt deeply when the New Year began. I had to hide in the room several times so that no one would see tears streaming down my cheeks; so that they would not think that I was breaking. For I am not breaking.
In spring 2011, she protested the extralegal house arrests of Green Movement leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi; she was arrested and detained for several weeks. Her conviction on the 2009 charges was upheld on appeal and she was summoned to Evin this past May to serve her one-year term.
Since 2009, dozens of Iranian journalists have been imprisoned; many have left the country, or gone into self-imposed internal exile following periods of detention. The shuttering of multiple reformist papers, the expulsion of critical student journalists from their colleges, the dissolution of the reporters' union -- the Association of Journalists in Tehran -- and repeated crackdowns on the blogosphere under the guise of "fighting pornography" are among the other measures the state has taken aimed at silencing critical voices.
Last summer, the regime toyed with the idea of fully abolishing journalism (among other liberal arts disciplines) as a degree program in all Iranian universities. Radio Zamaneh reported in May that the Ministry of Culture had forced Allameh Tabatabai University to stop accepting new students into its prestigious journalism program. Recently, some schools, with official encouragement, have begun to restrict women's enrollment in liberal arts degree programs.
This is the first time Bastani has been allowed a furlough since he was incarcerated in July 2009. He has suffered from poor medical care while in Rajaei Shahr Prison, developing an infection in his teeth and jaw that had gone untreated, according to his family. At one point, the Intelligence Ministry reportedly intervened to prevent him from being furloughed to see an outside doctor.
Though he has been jailed for three years, Bastani has managed to release statements criticizing the regime and calling for a boycott of the Majles elections. He and several other reformist prisoners, both journalists and politicians, have staged hunger strikes at Rajaei Shahr, and he has reportedly been beaten by guards on multiple occasions, most infamously in June 2011 when he was assaulted in front of his wife and mother.
In the video that follows, in addition to his wife, Bastani also refers by first name to Zhila Bani Yaghoub, a journalist and women's rights activist who recently began serving a one-year sentence for "propaganda against the regime" and "insulting the president." Like Mahsa Amrabadi, she is held in Evin Prison; Bani Yaghoub's husband, journalist Bahman Ahmadi Amouei, is serving five years and four months on various anti-state charges in Rajaei Shahr Prison alongside Bastani. A transcript of Bastani's remarks in the original Farsi can be found here.
What time is it now?
I'm going back [to jail] in less than three or four hours...
I have such a strange feeling. I just said goodbye to my mother. Told her that I have to go and that I don't know if we will see each other in three years or not.
But even so, I will say goodbye as if I'll be gone for three years. Because, really, I don't have a clue as to when they'll let me out again or what will happen to me in there...
But I am good, very good. I saw Mahsa yesterday and, it was so interesting, she [told me] that "I am well, I work out, I read..."
Apparently, she's reading intensively. She's also working on her English with the help of a friend, who is also an English teacher. Then Zhila came and [told me] that "Mahsa works, reads, learns English to such an extent, as if she's in a hurry and thinks she's going to be freed in two days. I said to her, 'What's the rush? You're going to be behind bars for a long, long time.'"
I told [Zhila] that if "someone as hard-bitten as you is praising Mahsa, it means that she must be doing the right thing."
I told her that this kind of feels like the Last Supper. It's the last time we're meeting before we go. She started to tear up, but she wouldn't let me cry. She said: "No! I don't want you to cry. I don't want you to cry." With eyes brimming with tears, she said goodbye. As we were parting, I thought to myself: What kind of destiny is this? We're even deprived of the chance to meet in prison.
You see, I think we journalists are in a situation where we all have to have each other's back before anything or anyone. Especially now that there is no journalism association or union anymore to help out jailed journalists.
Whoever decides to become a journalist accepts [Iran's] circumstances. He has most probably read, heard, seen that journalists who are active usually end up in jail and in trouble. So it helps to have an association or a support group. It gives a peace of mind.
I think the cinema people set a great example. When one of them is in a tight spot or if, for instance, the House of Cinema faces problems, they all join forces and do everything in their power to raise awareness and public attention. By doing so, they create a wave of some sort, which kind of softens the blow of all the pressure placed upon them.
But now that a journalism association doesn't exist, you start to wonder about the fate of all the little-known journalists currently behind bars, such as Siamak Ghaderi, Mohammad Davari, and many others, whom I choose not to name.
Mahsa always said she wanted to write something about these journalists. They really are on their own. In the situation we're in, nobody can do anything -- not even families. So it would be great if all of us stand up for these journalists and become their voice. I've heard that Abdol Reza Tajik is doing this from abroad. They say he has now moved abroad and is working rather well. The same goes for Ehsan Mehrabi. It's really good that they closely follow the news of [journalists in Iran] and voice support for them whenever the time is right. Because our families can do nothing for us here; and we ourselves, well, we would be behind bars, facing a myriad of limitations and problems. So at least an association would be good to stand up for us.
OK, it's time. I must go now. It's hard. Really hard... Last night, I told a couple of the guys [journalists]: "Bastards, you have been so kind and caring to me that it's making it all the more difficult to leave."
But what really makes things difficult is the absence of the person you would really want to say goodbye to. Perhaps it really is our destiny. You want to see your wife, but she's not there. You want to say goodbye to her, but she's not there.
Goodbye. I love you all.
Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau