We Are Spies- Nooshabeh Amiri

The Islamic Republic of Iran interprets journalists and journalism as spies and espionage. In its eyes, we journalists are spies. Where have we received our training? Colleges of journalism (places that they claim have brought the deviant sciences to Iran). Where do we work? At newspapers (which they portray to be enemy bases).

So what is our crime? Dissemination of news. We believe in the free flow of information. We interview, write reports, gather news, etc (all of which are acts of espionage in the eyes of the Islamic republic). What is our punishment? Arrest and summons. Not once or twice, but repeatedly. We are subjected to continuous interrogations (just look at Mahsa Amrabadi, and others). What is our sentence? Flogging. Not one slash, not 5, or 10, but 50 (look at Samie Tohidloo and others). Imprisonment not just for one year, two years etc. but for dozens of years (look at Ahmad Zeidabadi and others). Ban from work. Not for one year or 5, but for 30 years (look at Jila Bani-Yaghoub).

And eventually we are exiled (many of us who have chosen to live in the West have done it out of compulsion). This is the situation of independent newspapers and journalists in Iran while the largest government newspaper in the country is run by an interrogator, a Revolutionary Guard member and an intelligence agent (none other than Hossein Shariatmadari). This interrogator is the representative of ayatollah Khamenei, the leader of the Islamic republic at Kayhan newspaper. This daily issues indictments for journalists on a daily basis. It writes arrest warrants for them and lists tens of charges against them, such as espionage, foreign agent, mercenary, sell out, affiliate of the West, etc. This story has been going on for thirty years now and began on the very first day the Islamic regime came into being. These are the conditions of a country that today houses the largest prison journalist population in the world. But this is also the country that has a long history of journalism and media. The first newspaper appeared in Iran over 150 years ago. That newspaper was the third newspaper in the Middle East. In contrast to this progressive history, there isn\'t a single independent newspaper in the country today. A few publications emerge occasionally, but they have certainly about their immediate future or the very next day. This is a country in which not only is the press told what not to write, but orders arrive on what it must write, and even how to do it. What should or should not be written are what the supreme leader of Iran views as important or necessary. If not him then one of the rackets that holds power. The result of this situation is that today there are 18 journalists in Iranian prisons who lack the rights of even regular prisoners. These imprisoned journalists have no defense attorneys, are not given prison leaves, have no right to contact anyone outside prison, and will face the same fate as Hoda Saber if they protest or go on strike. Hoda died in prison following his hunger strike which was ignored by the authorities.

These events are taking place in a country that in 1927 accomplished the first liberation revolution in the region, and witnessed 84 publications shortly afterwards.

Since then, Iran has witnessed plenty of successes and failures but the black years after the 1979 revolution have been the harshest and most difficult for journalism and journalists in Iran.

As the revolution was succeeding in late 1970s, its leader ayatollah Khomeini, who was at Neauphle Chateau in the outskirts of Paris at the time, told me in person in an interview that everybody will be free in Iran, including Marxists with the new regime. But it only took a few months for newspapers to be shut, media offices to be invaded by revolutionaries and journalists to be sent home for good. I have been banned from writing for 12 years, because of an unwritten sentence. Khomeini lied to us. But later he openly called for \"breaking the pens\" of writers. This is how things remained in Iran for years. Government newspapers emerged and flourished and engaged in attacking and killing freedom on the pretext of a war that followed.

But even harder days lay ahead. One day ayatollah Khamenei, the successor to Khomeini, declared newspapers to be \"enemy bases.\" Saeed Mortezavi, a man with a criminal record who fled his hometown because of rape and sold himself to those in power, became the prosecutor of the press and in one day banned tens of publications on orders from Khamenei. The situation reached a point where Iranian-Canadian journalist Zahra Kazemi died because of blows by Saeed Mortezavi\'s shoe. The official report of this crime was read out in the Majlis, but Mortezavi received a career promotion. Since then, Mortezavi has killed more and has been elevated even higher. His latest crime was in the illegal Kahrizak prison where tens of young Iranian men and women were tortured in the most inhuman manner, but he still received a higher position in Ahmadinejad\'s administration. He is Mr. Khamenei\'s favorite manager and a member of Ahmadinejad\'s cabinet.

We now come to the present day. The electoral coup of 2009 resulted in the banning of tens of publication and the arrest of hundreds of journalists. Hundreds of journalists lost their jobs and the Association of Iranian Journalists was shut, its members arrested.

The assault even arrested web bloggers. This was a massive arrest which resulted in greater tragedies when Omid Mir-Sayafi who lost his life in prison and when Hossein Ronaghi Maleki whose youthful bodies is now half paralyzed because of the Middle Age tortures he was subjected to.

But what about the future of journalism in Iran? I asked a Rooz colleague inside Iran who at one time was the most prominent Iranian journalist whose writings were read by thousands why he did not write as well as he used to.

His response is the outlook that I wish to present.

He said, \"In those days, I used to talk to people in person, I raised questions with officials, I wrote in real editorial offices side by side with tens of others, I had access to news sources, etc. These days however, I have been for months now leading a semi-secret life in a basement, presenting myself through a pseudo name, without the right to contact people or officials and on top of that in constant fear of being found and arrested any moment. My Internet is slow and I do not have easy access even to government news websites. I am not even sure whether my reports will not be rerouted to someone else. Lonely and in fear I am preoccupied with the thought of at least preventing journalism from being forgotten.

This colleague of mine is now a taxi driver but every night is online, without knowing whether there will be a tomorrow or not.

In contrast to this picture, government newspapers run by massive government funds or Khamenei money or those of other gangs in power, buy out our journalists with high pays and plentiful resources. They are now competing to destroy journalism in Iran and turn journalists into bulletin writers, yes-men, lip servicing government views and lies. They are competing to empty the profession of journalism from its content and turn journalists into mere scribers.

But does this journalism have a future? Certainly not. Perhaps you are asking what does hope have to do in this picture. The answer is that it provides us with the energy to continue. Even our colleagues in government newspapers raise the dangers through web blogs, the Facebook and through secret messages, communicating their messages to their colleagues abroad.

Our colleagues in government newspapers or in those dark basements have kept the torch of journalism on. They compare the fate of the Islamic republic to that of Saddam Hussein. They believe that because of history and based on science, knowledge and love of freedom, the Iranian regime has a future similar to Saddam\'s. We shall continue our path but need the help of the free world. If they kill us there, if they shut our mouths, they are in fact killing the whole world. The world is after all interconnected. I do not believe the world can survive this injustice and imbalance in which there is freedom in one corner of the globe while journalists are frozen in ice in another. The free flow of information defines itself through information exchange. This exchange cannot be prevented from flowing - or without being helped - without affecting the flow in other places.

By Nooshabeh Amiri (Source: Rooz Online)