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Censoring reformists out of existence

14 Sep 2009 21:184 Comments

It didn't work for the apartheid government of South Africa -- but it's apparently inspired Iran's hardliners.

By MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles | 13 Sept 2009

When the apartheid regime was in power in South Africa, the African National Congress (ANC), which was immensely popular with the majority black population, was its foremost enemy. The ANC was founded on January 8, 1912, under the leadership of John Dube and Sol Plaatje. It was originally called the South African Native National Congress. By 1920 it had become the most powerful opposition group, advocating a broad campaign against apartheid. The organization took up its present name, the ANC, in 1923.

In 1944, the Youth League was formed by Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, and Oliver Tambo, the future leaders of the ANC. On a platform of African nationalism, the Youth League called for strikes, boycotts, and defiance. The organization was then adopted by the ANC, which transformed itself into a mass movement, encompassing not only blacks, but Indians and "other people of color" who were suffering under the racist apartheid regime.

As the ANC gained strength, the apartheid regime became increasingly more repressive against the black majority. It began arresting ANC leaders and banning publication of any news or photos of them. The apartheid regime tried to act as if they didn't exist. The goal was to banish Mandela and other ANC leaders from the mind of the population.

Steve Biko (1946-1977), a black militant hero murdered in jail, was not an ANC member, but treated in the same way. Eventually, of course, the ANC and its allies won the struggle, and South Africa became a non-racial democracy.

Iran's hardliners have apparently decided to use the same tactic. The Supreme National Security Council has banned all Iranian newspapers and news agencies from publishing any news about Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, the two reformist candidates in the June 12 presidential election -- and now leaders of the Green Movement. Discussing anything about the election is off limits too. The apparent goal is to banish Mousavi and Karruobi from people's minds.

The order was issued on Saturday, a day after Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's Friday prayer sermons, during which he maintained his hardline stance. He said "those who are opposed to the government will be tolerated, but [those] confronting the political system will receive a harsh response." He claimed that the 85% of the population, who took part in the June 12 vote, also support his reign. The question then (if this is true) is why the government needs to resort to such harsh and desperate measures?

The censorship was already in place in another form even before the June 12 election. Seda o Sima, the Voice and Visage of the Islamic Republic, the national network of radio and television stations controlled by the hardliners, was already not broadcasting news about the Mousavi or Karroubi campaigns, but disseminating propaganda about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad under the guise of "government's news."

At the same time, reformist newspapers have been shut down one after the other. Yaas-e No (New Jasmine), a popular daily published by Mohammad Naeimipour, a reformist journalist (and a chemical engineer like the author), had been allowed to publish again after several years, but was ordered closed after only a few issues before the election.

Kalameh Sabz (Green Word), a newspaper published by Mousavi, met the same fate. It was shut by the hardliners after a few issues.

Most importantly, Etemad-e Melli (National Trust), the reformist newspaper published by Karroubi and his National Trust Party, which had been tolerated for a few years [partly to demonstrate that there is "freedom of the press" in Iran] was also closed, and its editor and several journalists were arrested.

The most important reformist journalists have also been imprisoned. They include Eisa Saharkhiz (an outspoken critic of Ayatollah Khamenei), Dr. Ahmad Zeidabadi (close to the Nationalist-Religious Coalition), Mohammad Atrianfar (close to the Executive of Reconstruction Party, a reformist group close to former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani), Mohammad Quchani (editor-in-chief of Etemad-e Melli), Saeed Leylaz (close to the Islamic Iran Participation Front, the largest reformist political party), Bahman Ahmadi Amouei, an independent reformist journalist, Kayvan Samimi (editor-in-chief of Naameh [Letter], a weekly), Mohammad Reza Nourbakhsh (editor-in-chief of Farhikhtegan [the Elite]), Masoud Bastani, Fariba Pajooh, and Hengameh Shahidi (a reporter for Etemad-e Melli).

The action taken by the Supreme National Security Council is not unprecedented in Iran. In the summer of 2001, after Ayatollah Seyyed Jalaloddin Taheri, a progressive cleric and supporter of the reformists, resigned from his position as the Friday prayer Imam of Esfahan (a large city in central Iran) and wrote an open letter in which he strongly criticized the hardliners, the Council prohibited all the newspapers and news agencies from publishing the letter.

The tactic was also used before the 1979 Revolution. For example, newspapers were not allowed to publish anything about Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh, Iran's national hero who was overthrown by a CIA-sponsored coup in 1953, nor were they allowed to publish his photos. Even some foreign leaders who were critics of the Shah of Iran received the same treatment. For example, Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Egyptian leader and a strong critic of the Shah [due to the Shah's relations with Israel], was also treated the same way by the Shah's government.

The apartheid-like censorship of Mousavi and Karroubi is another manifestation of the discriminatory practices of the hardliners. They have already divided the population into two groups, the "insiders" and the "outsiders" (khodi and gheyr-e khodi in Persian). The insiders are those trusted by the hardliners, but their circle gets increasingly more narrow, as even the people who played important roles in the 1979 Revolution have been thrown out of that circle.

Censorship may be a first step toward arresting Mousavi and Karroubi.

Karroubi has accused the hardliners of raping men and women who were detained during the post-election unrest. In response, the judiciary formed a committee comprised of Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejehei (the Prosecutor-General of the country), Ali Khalifi (chief of staff to the judiciary chief), and Ebrahim Raeisi (deputy to the judiciary chief), to look into the allegations. The committee met with Karroubi and received copies of the documents relating to the rapes. According to Rooz, a news website, the meeting was very positive, so much so that Karroubi told his aides he believed that the hardliners were going to prosecute the rapists.

But suddenly, security agents raided Karroubi's office and confiscated all the documents there instead. They also arrested Morteza Alviri (a senior aide to Karroubi), and Dr. Seyyed Alireza Beheshti (a senior aid to Mousavi). Both were working on detainee rape and torture cases. [Dr. Beheshti was released on Sunday.]

The sudden turn of events indicates that the judiciary is not making the decisions, but higher authorities, including possibly Ayatollah Khamenei. It may be that several senior politicians and police commanders have been involved in the rapes, and the extent of these crimes are so vast that admitting them publicly will be extremely embarrassing, especially for the hardliners.

For example, there have been reports that Hossein Fadaaei, a hard-line Majles deputy and strong supporter of Ahmadinejad; Ahmad Radan, deputy chief of police; and Masoud Sadroleslam (his real name is Taha Taheri; he is also known as Masoud Saleh), a former deputy head of the police intelligence unit, all played direct major roles in the crimes.

Dr. Ebrahim Amini and Shamsoddin Eisaei were also arrested. Dr. Amini was a deputy Speaker in the reformist-dominated 6th Majles [parliament]; he is a member of the central committee of the National Trust Party, and was working with Karroubi on the rapes cases. Eisaei, a deputy Interior Minister in the Khatami administration, worked with Mousavi on his presidential campaign.

The best evidence for the extent and nature of the rapes is provided by the actions of the hardliners. If no crime of this sort had occurred, why was there a need to raid Karroubi's office, confiscate all the documents and arrest his aides (as well as Mousavi's), who had been working on these cases? Why is there a need for all this secrecy?

The hardliners are terrified by the prospects of a national day of protest on Friday September 18. This is the last Friday in the current month of Ramadan, which Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini designated as Quds Day after the revolution. On this day, Muslims worldwide are supposed to protest the occupation of Jerusalem by Israel. Quds Day has always been a day in which demonstrations are held even in small towns and villages. The Green Movement has called on its supporters to participate in these demonstrations to showcase their strength.

The hardliners are so terrified by such a show of strength that even Ayatollah Khamenei threatened in his Friday sermons that, "Quds Day is only for Quds [Jerusalem]. No other slogan should be used."

There have been unconfirmed reports that Ayatollah Khamenei has already ordered the arrest of Karroubi. It has also been reported that Rafsanjani has threatened that if that happens, he will resign from his two positions of power, namely, the chairmanship of the Expediency Council [a Constitutional body that arbitrates over disputes between the Majles and the Guardian Council] and the Assembly of Experts [a Constitutional body that appoints the Supreme Leader and monitors his performance]. Many believe that before next Friday -- Quds Day -- Karroubi and possibly Mousavi will both be arrested.

In other news, Edris Arya Shokouh and Ziaoddin Sabouri, two senior officials in the Interior Ministry, have been arrested. It is said that the two leaked the actual results of the presidential election indicating that Mousavi had received 20 million votes, Karroubi a little over 13 million, and Ahmadinejad about 10 million.

Copyright (c) 2009 Tehran Bureau

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It's a minor point, but apartheid didn't technically exist until 1948. Up until then, what you had was merely racist white military colonial rule.

Iran in the last months has however shown that it is in the historical big leagues when it comes to totalitarian, repressive government.

G / September 14, 2009 6:24 PM

Media manipulation was the order of the day. Media establishments critical of the authoritarian regime were unceremoniously closed down. These were not enough. To deter journalists and reformists from pursuing the task of discovering the truth, they had to work under the specter of the most repressive decrees.

Open debate is to be encouraged so that there is a healthy, uninhibited and robust discussions of issues affecting public interest. Dissent and criticism should be welcome. This Islamic regime should have no pretensions to infallibility. It has committed many mistakes. Khamenei should have the capacity to admit his errors and institute the necessary corrective measures where it can, or repair and minimize the damage he has inflicted by reason of his damn mistakes.

No law should be passed abridging freedom of speech or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.

No journalist or no person should be imprisoned for writings critical of a President, his administration and of the political leadership. None will ever be.

Thank you Dr. Sahimi.

shetty / September 15, 2009 9:29 AM

Why would Rafsanjani resign?! Just to prove a point? He's in such a place of power, i think proving his point will be overshadowed by the immense loss of power the Mousavi-Karroubi-Rafsanjani side currently has.

Neda / September 15, 2009 5:52 PM

I see that I'm not the only one to be pessimist. Not many comments now. Nobody seems interested.

Maybe the only solution is armed threats from other nations, and maybe a sort of temporary protectorate organized by UN, with volonteers from democratic countries taking over the institutions while training new iranian students and people how to manage their country in a civilised way ?

This is no doubt a fantasy, but maybe a new way for future thug regimes who won't listen to reason. After a few years of protectorate administration, there would be, as in S. Africa, Rwanda, trials and public debates that would let the criminals publically admit their crimes, yet be pardonned by the public.

In any case some form of pardon system will have to be applied in any future new government as most of the players have blood on their hands. All the others are abroad, whether they go back and participate in a new system, well, I don't know.

pessimist / September 17, 2009 8:53 PM