English translation of an interview with Iranian women’s rights activists Parvin Ardalan, published in Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet on Tuesday, 8 March 2011.
Source (Swedish): http://www.svd.se/nyheter/inrikes/strukturer-svara-att-forandra_5991247.svd
English translation kindly provided by Anusche Noring

43-year-old Parvin Ardalan, the Swedish city of Malmö’s current Guest Writer under the Cities of Refuge scheme, is threatened with imprisonment in her home country of Iran for her activities that include fighting for women’s rights.

8 MARCH | Parvin Ardalan, a resident of Malmö and a leading figure of the Iranian women’s movement

Today, women in countries such as Egypt, Iran and Lebanon are going out to protest. Their demand is to be able to move around freely in the streets and public places. Women in these countries are aware of their rights, says Parvin Ardalan, a resident of Malmö and a leading figure of the Iranian women’s movement.

The uprisings in Northern Africa and the Middle East have an inspiring effect. On the eve of International Women’s Day, young feminists in countries such as Egypt, Iran and Lebanon launched a call on the Internet to draw attention to the situation of women. Today, they intend to take to the streets.

“Women in these countries are becoming more and more aware of their rights, they know that these are universal rights and they need to start demanding them, says Parvin Ardalan, journalist and writer and one of the leading figures of the Iranian women’s movement.

For almost a year now, she has been living in Malmö as the city’s Guest Writer under the Cities of Refuge scheme, and she plays an active part in the struggle for women’s rights in the Middle East. In 2007, she was awarded the Olof Palme Prize for her work.

What is the most urgent issue for women in the Middle East?

“Domestic violence and violence against women in public environments is a huge problem. The power structures in many countries of the Middle East are extremely patriarchal, and we need to change that”, Parvin Ardalan states.

In order to be able to do that she believes that women need to participate actively in the process of democratisation – and push for anti-discriminatory legislation at a very early stage. At the same time, Parvin Ardalan thinks it is important to ensure that the image of women changes and that gender issues are given a greater role.

What does the future of women in the Middle East and North Africa look like?

“The voices that are being raised in favour of democracy are neither islamist nor fundamentalist. They are about basic human and social rights, and they apply to women too. People are now willing to change their society. But the problem is that many countries have had dictatorships for a long time and structures can be difficult to change. The most important thing is that we must not go back to the old system.

Original article written by Karin Eurenius and published in Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet on 8 March 2011.

Published in German weekly Spiegel Online on 21 October 2010
English translation kindly provided by Elli Mee

It is a delicate trip to a country where those in power act harshly against opposition members: the Christian Democrat politician Peter Gauweiler and fellow Members of Parliament are currently staying in Iran. In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE (SPON) he talks about his motives.

SPON: Mr Gauweiler, as chairman of the subcommittee on foreign cultural and educational policy, you together with colleagues from other political parties are currently visiting Iran. The international community accuses the country of pursuing its secret nuclear weapons program. Arrests of opposition members and severe punishments are making the headlines. What is the aim of this one-week trip?

Gauweiler: Germany sees its foreign cultural policy as a contribution to preventing conflicts, protecting human rights and promoting freedom. The German language institute in Tehran is highly popular, the German school needs to be extended, and representatives of Iranian cinema, music, theater, literature and fine arts want to build relations with us.

SPON: The relations between Iran and Germany are currently stressed by the arrest of two German journalists in Iran. So far, diplomatic officers were unable to get in contact with them. Did you address this issue?

Gauweiler: Yes, of course. We are very concerned with it.

SPON: President Ahmadinejad is acting harshly against the opposition. Are you not lending support to the hardliners with your visit?

Gauweiler: No, why? Our cultural and language services, academic exchange programs and the German school benefit people from all backgrounds and social groups.

SPON: You are staying in Iran until Friday. Are you going to meet opposition members?

Gauweiler: Yes, that has been an important point for me and my colleagues from the beginning. We have managed to do so despite time constraints.

SPON: For a Western politician visiting Iran, there is always danger of being exploited by the regime. According to the Iranian state TV channel IRIB, you have praised the peaceful coexistence of religions in Iran and criticized the propaganda of Western mass media. What is behind these headlines?

Gauweiler: I am unaware of the details of these stories. Our experiences with the Iranian press are mixed. But it should not be denied that the Christian communities in Iran can practice their faith more freely than those in some Arab countries with whom we are allied. And where else in the Middle East is there a Jewish community with 20,000 members and numerous synagogues across the country? This does not mean that we ignore and diminish the problems. On Monday, we visited the Jewish community of Tehran and handed over a present from the Munich Israelite community, which Charlotte Knobloch (President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany – the redaction) had given to me. We also visited a catholic and a protestant community in Tehran.

SPON: You recently visited North Korea together with a member of the Liberal Party (FDP). Is it your goal, as chairman of the subcommittee on foreign cultural policy, to visit dictatorial regimes?

Gauweiler: No need to worry. With these instruments of “small-scale” foreign cultural policy, we want to become active in regions that are full of tensions, where big diplomacy meets its limits.

Interview by Severin Weiland

Published on German-French TV channel “ARTE” on 4. August 2010
Text source and video (German): http://www.arte.tv/de/3361540.html

(Photo added by the translator)

29-year-old Ali Kantoori is a supporter of the opposition in Iran. He fled his home country, first to Turkey, then to Germany. Two weeks ago he arrived in the Federal Republic. ARTE Journal has met him for an interview.

ARTE Journal, Géraldine Schwarz: “Were you persecuted in Iran?”

Ali Kantoori, Iranian dissident: “If I were to go into detail about what they have done to me in Iran, the interview would definitely blow the frame of this program. In general, however, I can summarize it by saying that in prison I was subjected to psychological and physical torture, as a result of which I lost 15 kg of weight and developed acute asthma as well as severe psychological disorders.”

ARTE Journal: “How were you treated in prison?”

Kantoori: “Interrogations in Iranian prisons always start with the interrogator saying that you will not experience any problems with him, provided you say and sign what he wants to obtain from you, but if you speak your mind, there will be big problems. Often they confront you with allegations that are simply not true, they are fabricated. If you deny them, they treat you with electric batons and beatings. I had to endure everything, but worst of all were the humiliations I and my family were subjected to.”

ARTE Journal: “How has the human rights situation in Iran developed since the green revolution?”

Kantoori: “As far as the social freedoms are concerned, the situation after the green revolution has deteriorated. There is more repression now, and one of the reasons is that the military and the regime’s security forces are better prepared and better organized than before – be it in terms of their presence in the streets, or in terms of their invading people’s private lives, like telephone tapping. However, this should not lead us to believe that the situation will remain like this forever. Even though the situation of the people in Iran in the past year has not improved, but rather deteriorated, I hope that we as soon as possible will be able to save the Iranian society from this repression, and establish a situation where everyone can live in dignity.”

ARTE Journal: “What are your expectations for the future?”

Kantoori: “It’s impossible to make exact predictions for the future. All we can do is speculate. However, when I look at the Iranian’s desire for change, at the degree of awareness in the young generation, I believe that the future will be better than the situation of today. The problem is, however, that these people lack the tools that would enable them to achieve change. Therefore, nobody hears what they are saying. What the Iranians in the streets are saying is quite different from the statements of the official leaders of the green movement. And very rarely have the media reflected the Iranian’s real demands.”

ARTE Journal: “How many Iranians have fled to Turkey, and what is their situation there?”

Kantoori: “The truth is that the refugees in Turkey are in a dreadful situation, and I think everybody should know this. It makes me sad, and I request from the European governments to do everything in their power to accept these people in their countries and take care of those who have problems. The situation in Turkey is really appalling. They don’t have jobs, they have nothing. These people, who have left everything behind, who have fled their country, are facing serious problems. And there is something else that concerns me greatly: I would like to urge my fellow Iranians to consider an escape as a last resort, and to resist this murderous and criminal regime as long as they can. They really should regard an escape as a last step, just like I did.”

ARTE Journal: “How is life in Germany for you?”

Kantoori: “I can say that I am very glad that Germany accepted me. I would like to thank the German government for providing me with this opportunity to live in a free society, continue my studies and lead a normal life.”

ARTE Journal: “Don’t you fear that the Iranian intelligence could be after you?”

Kantoori: “You can not totally disregard this, since the Iranian intelligence has been observing people in Germany in the past. However, fear does not solve problems, so I am not afraid. But there is a risk, no doubt – after all, the Islamic Republic has even killed people here in Germany. On the other hand, you can’t fall into water without getting wet. It’s the price every political activist has to pay.”

English translation provided by @germantoenglish

TV report shown in German public service TV station ZDF’s evening news programme “heute-journal” on Wednesday, 26 May 2010.
Link to video of complete news programme on Neda Soltani: http://www.zdf.de/ZDFmediathek/beitrag/video/1054084/Das-falsche-Gesicht-der-Neda-Agha-Soltan#/beitrag/video/1053824/ZDF-heute-journal-vom-26-Mai-2010

Link to video of the TV reportage on Neda Soltani: http://www.zdf.de/ZDFmediathek/beitrag/video/1054084/Das-falsche-Gesicht-der-Neda-Agha-Soltan#/beitrag/video/1054084/Das-falsche-Gesicht-der-Neda-Agha-Soltan

English translation kindly provided by Anusche Noring, first published on Facebook

News anchor’s introduction:
Neda. This name immediately brings back memories of the pictures and the anger we witnessed last summer. Neda Agha-Soltan was the Iranian student who was shot dead on the fringes of a demonstration against the Ahmadinejad government. A mobile phone video captured the scene of her death, and Neda became the most well-known martyr of this uprising for freedom. Even today, her picture can still be seen all over the Internet, on posters and T-shirts – yet many media outlets are showing the wrong picture, one which they found on the Internet, the picture of a woman called Neda Soltani. This is not only an example of slipshod research, but for the real, living Neda Soltani, it is a tragedy, it placed her between all the frontlines and, eventually, forced her into political asylum in Germany. Kamran Safiarian reports on what is indeed a deeply sad story in every respect.

TV reportage:

These are the pictures that would turn her into the icon of resistance in Iran – Neda Agha-Soltan. The Internet video showing her being murdered spread all over the world, her photograph turned her into a martyr. Neda Soltani, on the other hand, is no martyr. She is now living as a refugee in Germany. Through no fault of her own, she became the double of an icon. To the right, a picture of Neda Soltani. To the left, a picture of the murdered Neda Agha-Soltan.

Neda Soltani: “This is my profile picture from Facebook. After the murder, it was stolen and spread all over the world as being the photograph of the murdered Neda Agha-Soltan. But this photograph here does not show Neda Agha-Soltan, who was killed. This is me, Neda Soltani. And, as you can see, I am still alive.”

Tehran in June 2009. When the 26-year-old student Neda Agha-Soltan was killed, chaos was reigning in the streets. The same was true for many media outlets’ editorial offices. Journalists were eagerly searching the net for pictures of the dead young woman and quickly come across the wrong photo. Posters commemorate the unsuspecting Neda Soltani as a martyr – the beginning of a nightmare.

Neda Soltani: “All of a sudden, photos of me with a black ribbon of mourning popped up everywhere on television and in the papers. I had become a living corpse. That was horrible. I received phone calls by friends and relatives who believed I was dead. They had no idea that the whole thing was just a terrible mistake.”

But things were to turn even worse: Neda was visited by the Iranian intelligence service, and was put under pressure. The regime sensed an opportunity to take advantage of the mix-up to cover up the murder of Neda Agha-Soltan, the student – here some pictures of her funeral.

Neda Soltani: “The intelligence service showed up at my house one week after Neda’s death. They questioned me, they wanted me to confess that I was the Neda who everyone thought was dead. They wanted to use me to cover up Neda’s murder. I just couldn’t take it any more.”

Neda Soltani tried everything she could to clear up the mistake. She deleted her Facebook photo, but this led the opposition to believe in a measure of censorship by the regime. Her photo continued to spread around the world like wildfire, on the Internet and on posters – up until the present day. With the help of her lawyer, she has been fighting for the right to her own photograph ever since.

Neda Soltani’s lawyer: “In Germany, all those who were reprimanded have reacted as far as possible, they have signed declarations of discontinuance [vowing to stop using the picture] and have also changed their visual reporting. In the US, to give you another example, the situation is completely different. In that case, Ms Soltani had initially approached the individual media companies herself and pointed out the mix-up of photos while she was still in Iran, but nobody ever reacted there.”

In the meantime, Neda has fled to Germany for fear of reprisals. But here too, she is met with hostility, with some accusing her of having used the icon Neda to obtain refugee status abroad. Today, she lives near Frankfurt and works as an English teacher. Her only wish is to be able to once again lead a normal life. “I have lost everything in my life”, she says, “my family, my friends, my home country”. Neda has no idea what is going to happen to her in the future. She has given up hope of being able to return to Iran one day.

News anchor’s final comment:
The story of the two Nedas. One that should also serve as a an important lesson to us journalists.

Published on the website of German weekly magazine “Spiegel” on 28. April 2010
Source (German) http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/0,1518,691638,00.html
English translation provided by @germantoenglish

Mehdi Karroubi in an interview with Dieter Bednarz

Although he is placed under surveillance by Iran’s regime, reformist cleric Mehdi Karroubi is not to be intimidated. In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, the prominent opposition leader talks about torture and rape in prisons, and also about renewed protests on the anniversary of the rigged election.

Mehdi Karrubi: The prominent reformist cleric is being consistently isolated from visitors

[Part 1]
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Mr Karroubi, until just now, two guards were standing in front of your house. Has the regime placed you under house arrest?

Karroubi: I would not put it this way. I am still allowed to leave the house. But they have dissolved my political party “Etemad-e Melli” (“National Trust”) and my office, my newspaper of the same name was banned. And I am always surrounded by police. Whoever wants to visit me – be it members of parliament, intellectuals, friends – will be registered, questioned, and must expect to face consequences.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Are your activities being monitored by the intelligence service?

Karroubi: The Persian language has a nice metaphor: The walls have mice, and the mice have ears, therefore, the walls are able to listen. Apart from that, the regime has seconded 14 people to ensure my so-called safety. They are supposed to “protect me from terrorists”, as I was told. However, the real purpose is to gather information. In case I will be killed, I highly recommend to check whether the perpetrator belongs to the circle of my protectors.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Despite the repression of the past months you have not lost your sense of humour.

Karroubi: Should I allow my opponents to wear me down? No. I was imprisoned under the Shah, I fought for this revolution together with Imam Khomeini. This state is my child that I will not abandon as long as I live.

“They severely abused my youngest son”

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Many people are not able to stand as firm against the pressure of the regime as you do. They are very afraid.

Karroubi: Yes, our people bear a great burden, and there is great fear. The people know the massive presence of police and militias that is ready to confront them. They know what to expect when they dare to revolt: They lose their jobs, their posts, their future. They face beatings, arrests, interrogations, and even worse things. This is the reason for the calm.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you still stick to your claims that arrested opposition supporters were tortured to death?

Karroubi: Of course I did not personally witness these incidents, but I trust the sources who provided the information. I know of four deaths that were caused by torture.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The regime, that is flying the flag of virtue, was especially annoyed by your claim that even rapes took place.

Karroubi: I know of five cases: Three women and two men who were raped. Whatever they threaten to do to me: I stick to what I said. I was physically assaulted for this during a Friday prayer. But should I renounce my conviction because of this?

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The situation in the prisons is dismayingly reminiscent of the terrible times under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

Karroubi: There are two differences: Under the Shah, torture was carried out systematically, by “experts”. Today it is different. The cases of torture are excesses, breaches of some individuals who did not act on behalf of the leadership. Unlike today, though, at that time people were at least allowed to publicly grieve for the victims. This was beneficial for their souls.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you fear to become a victim of those torturers yourself?

Karroubi: No. We don’t have a system of torturers. Apart from that, I am a disciple of Imam Khomeini who had only three guiding principles: Steadfastness, honesty, and readiness to fight.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Isn’t it merely a matter of time before they will arrest you as well? Most of your staff have already been arrested.

Karroubi: They have taken away so many that I am unable to give an exact number. I estimate that about 50 of my combatants were captured, among them many important helpers, like the manager of my weblog. My youngest son Ali, 37, was severely abused.

SPIEGEL's editor Dieter Bednarz met with Karroubi in his house in Tehran.

Part 2: “Sanctions mean further hardships for the people”

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Does the former Prime Minister Hossein Moussavi, who like you ran against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the presidential elections of June 12 and whom many regard as the true winner, continue to stand at your side?

Karroubi: We still are in close contact, exchange letters, talk on the phone. At least once a month we meet for private talks. Our aides meet much more often, though. Mr. Moussavi and I work for the same goals: We do not want to change the system. Our constitution does guarantee freedom of opinion and democracy. We want those rights to be implemented.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: But the reformist movement has quietened down.

Karroubi: The streets are quiet. But don’t let yourself be fooled. Every day the ideas of reform continue to spread. The people are just waiting for a spark.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: And you are going to light that spark?

Karroubi: We are calling for another peaceful gathering on the anniversary of our mass demonstration of 15. June, when about 3 million people protested against the manipulation of election results. We have already applied for authorisation.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The regime has issued a ban on demonstrations because it fears a show of force of your movement. It is very unlikely that this ban will be lifted on occasion of this anniversary.

Karroubi: It is important that we encourage people to continue protesting. Without violence, but with full determination.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: This means that new bloodshed is preprogrammed.

Karroubi: This government is brilliant in increasing the people’s dissatisfaction. Therefore, the people despite all misgivings will sooner or later revolt against the aggressive foreign policy, the lousy economic policy. I feel sorry for every single further victim. You can not imagine how much this affects me. But what else can we do? Give up? No, the people would be very disappointed if we urged them to stay home. They want us to encourage them, to tell them: Take to the streets, be brave.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: How much influence do you and Mr. Moussavi have on the movement today?

Karroubi: What has happened was a result of accumulated anger. The protestors share our call for freedom, they merely demand what is rightfully theirs.

“Ahmadinejad is a calamity for the people”

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Other demands have been voiced that go beyond that, though: The system must be abolished, the revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei must resign.

Karroubi: Very few people go as far as that. The vast majority says: We had a revolution, that’s enough. We don’t want a radical change, we want our prior course to be corrected.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The UN Security Council will most likely issue another resolution for stricter sanctions soon, because the regime does not cooperate on the nuclear issue. Do you welcome that?

Karroubi: Absolutely not. Sanctions mean nothing but more hardships for the people. If foreign countries wish to help us, they should demand that human rights be respected. However, we don’t actually need the foreign countries. We have learned to stand on our own feet.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Should the world actually talk to this president at all?

Karroubi: This man is a calamity for the people. However, since he is in office, you can’t ignore him.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you accept Ahmadinejad as the president?

Karroubi: No. The election was rigged. But he is holding this position, and thus he must be held accountable for what is happening.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The revolutionary leader has declared that the election was legitimate. Thus, who questions Ahmadinejad’s presidency at the same time questions Khamenei’s authority.

Karroubi: You may interpret it whatever way you like. I am not commenting on the revolutionary leader.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you expect the leadership to give in?

Karroubi: I don’t see a chance for Ahmadinejad to complete his four year term. Every day he causes new unrest. Even this conservative parliament has conflicts with him. No, it can’t go on like this.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you still believe in the future of the theocratic state?

Karroubi: I do, but I don’t believe in the theocracy of Dr. Ahmadinejad. In my theocracy people are free, and the government is elected by the people.

Demonstration in Tehran (photo from December 2009): 'The people would be disappointed if we urged them to stay home'

Translator’s note:
“Spiegel International” has also published an English article about this interview

Published in Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter on 20. April 2010
Source (Swedish): http://www.dn.se/nyheter/varlden/nya-satt-att-protestera-ger-lugn-pa-irans-gator-1.1080763
English translation kindly provided by Anusche Noring of Iran Elections News on Facebook

Written by Nathalie Besèr, Dagens Nyheter correspondent

On the surface, everything seems quiet, but underneath, Iran is boiling with anger. The mass protests against the regime have taken on a new form.

Tehran, June 2009. Today, the fiercest protests have been stifled and the Green movement appears crushed – or maybe a new phase could be lying ahead.

Instead of violent clashes on the streets of Tehran, protests are now taking place in everyday Iranian life.

“What we are now doing to show our protest is to refuse to pay our water and electricity bills. Many people are calling in sick and are not showing up at work. This is our new way of protesting”, says 24-year-old Mitra speaking on the phone with “Dagens Nyheter”.

She belongs to a group of students who have organised many of the protests that have taken place in the past few months. According to her, young people are now dying their hair blond, and women have been taking off their headscarves to express their dissent.

“We arrange parties in the evenings and meet to devise our strategies. The Green movement is there under the surface and seething. We are just embarking on a different phase right now”, says Mitra.

At the same time, the regime is tightening the noose on the leaders of the opposition, Mousavi, Khatami and Karroubi. According to Hamid Rasaii, a member of the Iranian parliament, 150 MPs have signed a petition to protest against the three opposition leaders, and a travel ban has meanwhile been imposed on them.

Parisa is 22 years old, and she too participates in the protest movement. She tells us that inflation in the Iranian capital is soaring.

“Life has become so expensive. Bread, milk and cheese – everything is expensive, and few people have real jobs to go to. This makes people hate the regime even more”, she says.

She also describes her fear that some of her friends could have been killed by the regime.

“Two of my friends, Maryam Vakili and Shabnam Asadi, have disappeared since the Ashura protests in December. I am afraid that they might have been tortured, raped and then killed. Each day, I go to Evin prison to look for them.

Both Parisa and Mitra are convinced that the protest movement will flare up again.

“We are only waiting for something new to happen. This could be the local elections, which are due to be held soon. Once that happens, all hell will be let loose again”, Mitra says.

Hundreds of thousands of people protested on the streets of Tehran after the election.

Published in Swedish daily “Sydsvenska Dagbladet” on 14 April 2010
Source (Swedish): http://www.sydsvenskan.se/varlden/article687228/Hon-kan-inte-%E2%80%89vara-tyst-langre.html
English translation kindly provided by Anonymous, edited by Anusche Noring of “Iran Election News” on Facebook

by Kinga Sandén
Rapper Ghogha never wanted to be political. The Iranian regime forced her to change her mind. After having performed in the southern Swedish city of Malmö in February, she applied for asylum in Sweden.

20-year-old Ghogha had been writing, rapping and studio recording in Tehran for several years. Never under her real name, and never before an audience.

In the darkness behind the stage at Kägelbanan in Stockholm on 4 February, she had a thick lump in her throat. Outside she heard the murmur of hundreds of spectators. She had always wanted this. Now she was just terrified.

The tour leader of the Iranian hip-hop festival, Safoura Safavi, squeezed her hand and said:

“Remember why you are doing this and think of all the people you love. Focus on what you have to say. And say it.”

Ghogha thought of the other members of her band who had stayed behind in Tehran. She thought about all the violence, all those who had been killed in the streets.

As she walked on stage, the crowd was screaming with enthusiasm. When she started talking the audience went totally quiet. She heard herself saying:

“I come from a country where you are executed for your thoughts. Where women’s existence is forbidden.”

“I felt happy and calm. I did it, ha! I was scared, but I said everything I wanted to say. I got so much energy from the audience, I had tears in my eyes the whole time. I was being myself”, says Ghogha, as we meet at a fast food restaurant in a city which Sydsvenska Dagbladet does not wish to mention for the rapper’s safety.

Almost a year ago, I was planning to travel to Iran to write a series of reports before the presidential election. I wanted to interview a young musician and contacted Ghogha.
She agreed to talk to me. “But I’m not interested in politics”, she said.

When I remind her of this, she replies heatedly:

“When I walk, it is politics. When I talk, it is politics. I just can’t keep quiet anymore.”

After the elections last June, the regime’s repression soared – as did her own frustration.

“There was silence. People spoke with their eyes. There were so many uniforms everywhere.”

She and her friends became more cautious about what they wrote in their e-mails and said on the phone. But they could not help but participate in the demonstrations.

“Each time I went out I was afraid I might be recognised and arrested. Everything around me was totally sick. The police were beating children and old people, they behaved like animals. I cried all the time and became depressed, everybody became depressed.”

“What gave us hope was the support from people outside of Iran. Therefore it was important to me to travel to the festival in Sweden.”

During a demonstration in Tehran in late summer, she saw several plainclothes policemen beating up a young man. A woman went in between – Ghogha shows how the woman was holding out her arms to protect him, with her chador flapping like a black sail.

“They beat her many times on the head and the upper part of her body, but she was still standing. Then one of them pulled a gun. Everybody screamed.”

Ghogha shakes her head.

“I had never seen any firearms before. I was shocked to see that the government could do just anything and that the police were not abiding by any laws.”

The morality police became more zealous too. Ghogha and a male fellow student were interrogated about why they talked to each other at university. Were they related?

The fact that they were part of the same group for a project was not considered a mitigating circumstance. Their identity cards were confiscated.

“Each step we take is wrong. Little things are crimes. The religious police arrest us for the way we dress, for what we do, for breathing. They want to take us to heaven by force.”

Ghogha found it increasingly difficult to control her anger. She dropped out of her engineering studies because she was afraid of accidentally saying something that would get her into trouble.

“My mother and father agreed that it was better that I quit.”

She describes them as free-thinkers, but not politically involved. They supported her plans to travel to the hip-hop festival in Sweden.

A few weeks before the trip plainclothes agents showed up in the studio where she and her band were working. They confiscated some hard drives, the criminal charge being “recording by a female rapper”.

It took some time before she found out about this. No one dared to call her from their mobile phones, fearing that calls might be intercepted.

The owner of the studio managed to bribe himself out of a trial, but the others in the band were scared. They cancelled their Sweden plans. Two days before the trip, the father of the backing vocalist was arrested for something not related to his daughter’s music – yet, she got scared and decided to back out of the trip too.

So Ghogha was alone when she said goodbye to her family at Imam Khomeini airport. She thought she would be performing at a small festival in a distant country where no one cared about hip-hop in Farsi.

Yet, as soon as she arrived she was met by interview requests from all major Swedish news media, the BBC and Voice of America. The demand for hearing a voice from inside Iran was enormous.

“I realised that this was my chance to draw people’s attention to what is happening to my country.”

But she had no other plans than to return home after the tour.

“I just want a free Iran,” she said as she stepped onto the stage at Babel in Malmö on 6 February, the last concert of the tour.

Ghogha spoke quietly and looked tired, gazed down at the floor or somewhere above us, the audience who had come to listen to her. Afterwards, I asked her if she really thought of going back.

She replied that she did not know, and it was true, she says now. She had not yet decided by then.

“Many advised me to apply for asylum. People say that the regime kills for less than what I have done and advised me to hide here, too.”

She submitted her application for asylum in February. Now she is waiting. Sleeping, watching TV, socialising with new friends.

“Right now I’m confused, I do not know what will happen to me in Sweden. I miss my family, my streets, the sun. Emotionally, it is wrong for me to stay, but logically it is right.”

Ghogha has been invited to perform in several European countries, but as long as she is applying for asylum, she is not allowed to travel. She is impatient, she says, her body is restless.

“I want to give hope to people in Iran. I am here to speak, not to be silent.”

Background information:
Women barred from singing
It is forbidden for women to perform as solo singers in Iran.
Hip-hop is practically illegal after having been condemned as decadent and alien to Islamic culture by leading politicians.
The hip-hop festival “Voices of Change” was part of the Swedish National Theatre’s project showcasing culture from and about Iran. Read more about the tour and the featured artists: http://bit.ly/bFeAi3

To watch the rapper’s concerts, enter the search term “Ghogha” on Youtube.com.

The stage name “Ghogha” means chaos. Sydsvenska Dagbladet does not publish the artist’s real name for her and her family’s safety.

Published on German public radio channel “Deutschlandfunk” on 29. March 2010
Source (German): http://www.dradio.de/dlf/sendungen/interview_dlf/1152900/
English translation kindly provided by Josh Manning

A demonstrator in Tehran holds up his blood smeared hand into the air. (photo: AP)

The son of the last Shah of Persia supports the Green Revolution movement in Iran Cyrus Reza Pahlavi in dialogue with Jürgen Liminski

“A democratic Iran would engage in peace and disarmament”, said Reza Pahlavi, the son of the late Shah of Persia and unifying figure of the resistance against the regime in Tehran. He believes the movement is “the best of what the country has ever been given in its long history.”

Jürgen Liminski: Last weekend at the annual conference of the International Society of Human Rights, IGFM, the situation in Iran was discussed. The main speaker at the event was the son of the last Shah, the presently 49 year old Cyrus Reza Pahlavi. Since the fall of the Islamic Revolution 31 years ago, the former crown prince has lived in exile in Washington and is considered a unifying figure of resistance against the regime in Tehran. At the brink of the IGFM event, I had the opportunity to lead an interview with Reza Pahlavi. The first question was aimed at the conference that was to occur two weeks later over the ensuing regulations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and it read: Does Iran need the atomic bomb?

Cyrus Reza Pahlavi: I personally believe that it does not lie in the interest of Iran to acquire the atomic bomb, and for several reasons. First of all, because we are bound by agreement to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Secondly, because we have a strategic advantage over many neighbors through natural conditions and resources and this advantage can become balanced through the relinquishment of further military options like the atom bomb. Thirdly, because I believe that the Iranians would not feel safer if they have this weapon. Other countries in the region would then strive for it. A democratic Iran would engage in peace and disarmament.

Liminiski: It is often claimed that the Iranian people support the regime’s desire to acquire the atomic bomb. In your opinion, is this correct?

Pahlavi:No, that is absolutely false. The Iranians do not want nuclear weapons. If the question is whether Iran as a sovereign country has the right to pursue the peaceful use of nuclear energy, then the situation is very different. I would remind you that neither the world nor Iran had a problem with the free use of nuclear energy before this regime came into power. In fact, the same countries that are presently exerting joint pressure on Iran had previously offered to sell them nuclear technology. Germany was among them. What has changed is the trust in the leadership of the country. One cannot trust this regime, it supports terror and is everything but transparent. It has led the country to the brink of military retaliation. This is definitely a source of serious concerns. Many Iranians have these concerns. Therefore it’s absurd to believe the propaganda saying the majority of the Iranians support the regime in its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Liminski: How do you feel about the opposition, the green movement?

Pahlavi: I support this movement with all heart. They belong to the best of what the country has ever been given in its long history. It is so valuable because it is as pluralistic as it can possibly be. It is a movement which does not only know the values of freedom, but is also ready to pay a high price for it. I am in earnest exchanges and trustful talks with members of this movement, both inside and outside the country. I have pledged every imaginable means of support to them so this movement can survive and bring esteem back to the country so all can aspire for human rights and democracy in our homeland.

Liminski: How could Iran find its way back to freedom?

Pahlavi: Well, it is clear that if they are dealing with an extremely repressive regime, then it is immensely difficult to openly show any structured organization. They would be immediately shattered. Therefore, the opposition is forced to operate from the underground and resort to civil disobedience rather than carry out persistent, daily protests. Such a resistance has its ups and downs, but the Green Movement is by no means dead. It is important to see how additional factors can give power to this movement from inside and also from outside of Iran. Here the international community can definitely contribute to the movement.

Liminski: Can Germany or Europe be such an additional factor?

Pahlavi: Of course. Take for example the sanctions – but at this point I would like to discuss an idea with policy makers. They cannot place this clerical regime decisively under pressure purely with economic sanctions. Far more crucial is the pressure from within. It is essential that the governments who wish to impose pressure on Iran and help  freedom prevail in this country take this into account. This means conclude sanctions that hit the regime and not the civilian part of the population. Secondly, place certain units and parts of the regime under pressure rather than continue business with them. I am thinking of the technical support the regime is receiving from companies like Nokia and Siemens. This technology has helped the regime block internet access or listen into the communications of the people. Rather, these companies should help the Iranian people overcome the blockages. Here, direct contacts, and the solidarities between people that go beyond the scope of the  governments, will be extremely helpful. I also think of non-government organizations that help raise awareness about political prisoners, the lack of rights in courts, or on needed and denied medical care. All this might take a long time, but these are only a few examples.

Liminski: It has often been said that the regime is at its end. But it is still in power. Would you dare to make a forecast for the end of the period of suffering for the people and the end of this dictatorship?

Pahlavi: We have often experienced situations in history where the circumstances were mistaken. I personally, for example, would never have believed I would experience in my lifetime the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communism, and now that is already two decades ago. Those who view in this light the situation in Iran and see the signs of decline and of receding movements even within the leadership circles of the regime, those will say the end is near. But the critical point, the biggest difference between 1979 and today is that it doesn’t count so much what the people don’t want but rather what they are striving for, what alternatives they see, and where they want to go. The alternative is vital. I propose in this sense a democratic system on the basis of a secular state. In other words: the separation of religion and state must be completely clear and definitive. This is the key factor for both democracy and human rights to really take precedence. Only then can the will of the people be truly represented, and only then can there be permanent stability for the country and its neighbors. Democracies do not lead wars against one another. It’s quite different with the current regime which exports radical Islam by terrorist means and in the near future with the atomic bomb in their hands. That is the alternative that stands for Iran and the world. I believe the peaceful alternative is not far and is feasible, provided, of course, decisive measures are taken to support this peaceful alternative.

Liminski: How do you see your own role in this context or in the future democracy? It’s widely known your father did not even rule a democracy.

Pahlavi: Well first of all: it’s not about me and I hope that the Iranian people understand what moves me and what my job is. In this sense, my past and my own words speak for themselves. I am not running for office. At this point in the history of our country, I am doing everything I can as an Iranian. And even though some expectations may be directed to me, I will help ensure there are free elections in Iran and that the Iranian people truly decide freely what they want. Free elections – that is the goal of my political mission. After that day, I am naturally willing to serve the people in the role in which they want to see me in the future. If not, my work is done and I can say in good conscience the patriot has done his duty, the patriot can go.

Liminski: The decisive factor is internal pressure on the regime. This was the son of the late Shah, Reza Pahlavi, in interview with German radio at the time of the annual meeting of the International Society for Human Rights in Bonn.

Broadcasted on German public service TV channel „ARD“, news broadcast „Tagesthemen“ 10. March 2010
Source (German): http://www.tagesschau.de/multimedia/video/video667944.html (click on link to watch the video)

by Stefan Buchen

In Turkish cities like this one, one finds the forgotten heroes of the protest movement against the Iranian regime.

We meet three Iranian students who have fled to Turkey. They wear the marks of the torture they endured in Iranian prisons, and out of concern for their families in Iran, they do not want to be identified.

When one of them was beaten up in the prison of torture, several of his vertebrae were smashed. This was his punishment for participating in the demonstrations against Ahmadinejad’s regime.

„I am in great pain when I stand, when I lie down, and when I walk it is absolutely unbearable. I don’t know what to do anymore“. He then shows us the torture marks on his legs. He was beaten with electrical batons, he says.

Turkey will not grant them asylum. Western governments and media celebrated people like them last summer, because they took to the streets in protest against Ahmadinejad.

This student is barely able to talk since he was tortured in detention. „I had to take off my clothes“, he says, stuttering, in a trembling voice. „The prison guards beat me up and then put a bucket in front of me, filled with excrements. ‚Eat that!’ they told me.“

After some minutes he has to stop the interview. All he wants is to get some fresh air.

The names of the three students and about 60 other Iranian dissidents who fled to Turkey have been presented to the Federal Government months ago. For a long time all international appeals to Germany to get involved and help remained unheard.

On Monday, a surprising announcement was made during a press conference of the Federal Government. „We decided to accept Iranian citizens from abroad in Germany. This applies to a series of substantiated individual cases, by an agreement with the Foreign Office.“

However, who exactly these individual cases are, and how long it will take, remains entirely unclear even after the announcement.

This family also hopes to be granted refuge in Germany. In August, the journalist Mohammad Zamani with his wife and child fled to Turkey. He had worked for a renowned dissident newspaper, and published articles about the protests against Ahmadinejad, about the brutal repression.

„The security authorities warned me: We know that you write those articles, we know your political past. Watch out that we will not kill you along with your wife and child.“

Zamani shows us the written summonses he received from the Intelligence Service. The last one is from 17. August. His charge: Inciting the rioters. For him this was a signal to flee. But even in Turkey he is not save. „Iranian security authorities called me and threatened me. They said they would not allow that I will ever live in peace.“

The Zamani family, as well as many other dissidents, now hope that Germany will follow through with its announcement to accept them as refugees.

Published in German on the website of German weekly magazine “Der Spiegel” on 18 February 2010
Link: http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/0,1518,678381,00.html
Title of German article: “Ein Militärschlag könnte viel wahrscheinlicher werden” (“A military strike could become much more likely”)

Published in English on the website of “Spiegel Online International” on 17 February 2010
Link: http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,678447,00.html

A caricature of US President Barack Obama is held aloft at celebrations marking the 31st anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution in Tehran, Iran, in early February. (dpa)

After more than a year of trying to engage positively with Iran, the first rumblings of discontent have been heard from within the Obama administration. In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, Iran expert Karim Sadjadpour discusses efforts for future diplomacy with the uncompromising state, sanctions and the potential for a military strike.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton recently said that, as the Revolutionary Guards gain more and more power, Iran is moving toward a “military dictatorship.” Do you share her dim view?

Karim Sadjadpour: Iran certainly resembles a military dictatorship more than it does an Islamic republic. However, I wouldn’t argue that the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) have supplanted Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei or President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. I think both men have spearheaded Iran’s transition to military dictatorship. Khamenei is the IRGC’s commander-in-chief; he handpicks their top commanders and changes them frequently. Up until now, I haven’t seen any evidence of the IRGC’s being disloyal to him.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Isn’t Clinton’s statement actually also an expression of frustration from within the Obama administration? After all, after one year of US “engagement,” no progress has been made.

Sadjadpour: Not on the nuclear issue. But Iran’s unwillingness to reciprocate US efforts has exposed Tehran as the intransigent actor in this equation — not Washington. The American and European position has never been more cohesive and, in private conversations, even Russian and Chinese diplomats acknowledge this. More importantly, the Iranian government is in the middle of its greatest existential crisis since the 1979 revolution. US engagement played an important role in accentuating Iran’s deep internal divides, both among political elites and between the population and the regime.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The US will now apparently focus on “targeted sanctions,” such as restricting the business activities of the Revolutionary Guards. Are these steps based on the insight that “crippling sanctions” would not get any support from Russia and/or China?

Sadjadpour: China and Russia are still instinctively opposed to the concept of sanctions, but Iranian intransigence has put them in a bind. My own view has always been that UN Security Council sanctions are more politically significant than they are economically — to project international unity and make it more difficult for Iran to frame this as a struggle between Islam and the West.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Won’t China ultimately conclude that tougher sanctions would be better for their own country? After all, if there is a military strike on Tehran, oil prices will spike worldwide. That would be costly for China, which is so dependent on foreign energy.

Sadjadpour: I think China will ultimately conclude that the potential costs of supporting diluted sanctions at the United Nations Security Council are less than the potential costs of being the lone holdout. Also, Tehran could not easily retaliate by cutting its commercial and political ties with Beijing. They have put themselves in a position in which they’re incredibly dependent on China.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: From the perspective of the Obama administration, are tougher sanctions also an attempt to silence people in the United States who are advocating even more aggressive measures, such as a military strike?

Sadjadpour: As long as Iran’s internal opposition continues to agitate, there is less of a likelihood of a military strike. But if, by 2011, the opposition movement has faded, and Iran is defiantly moving forward — toward a weapons capability — the likelihood of such a strike goes up significantly. Unfortunately.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you think the Americans will consider more comprehensive sanctions, such as restrictions on petrol? Could any of those bring the current Iranian regime back to the negotiating table?

Sadjadpour: Despite pressure from Congress, I don’t think the Obama administration will pursue more comprehensive sanctions in the near term. It’s one thing to bring Iran to the negotiating table and another thing to compel them to make meaningful, binding compromises that allay concerns about their nuclear ambitions. I think the former is very possible, but the latter is very unlikely. Sanctions will hurt the Iranian leaders, but they will not alter their nuclear calculations. The country is being run by a group of hardliners who are very good at escalating and very bad at de-escalating.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Would more comprehensive sanctions help or hurt the opposition — or Green Movement — within Iran?

Sadjadpour: More comprehensive sanctions that hurt the Iranian people would be counterproductive for the Green Movement. I think it’s paramount that we do no harm, and sanctions on petrol have unpredictable consequences. While I question the notion that sanctions will rally people around the government — that hasn’t been the case the last few decades in which sanctions have been in place — -it’s also true that Iran is going to be facing major economic challenges in the coming months. More comprehensive sanctions could offer Ahmadinejad a pretext for his disastrous management of the economy.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Were you disappointed with the rather low opposition turnout on the anniversary of the Islamic revolution last week? Can that be seen as a victory for the regime?

Sadjadpour: I don’t think we really have a complete picture of what happened during the anniversary. Private videos I’ve seen, as well as Google Earth images, seem to suggest that the government significantly exaggerated the size and enthusiasm of their crowds. However, I believe it was a tactical mistake by the opposition to build expectations too high. They know they’re running a marathon, not a sprint, and the regime had weeks of preparation in order to fill the square with their loyalists and violently prevent opposition supporters from attending. By being too optimistic, the opposition unnecessarily dampened morale among their supporters.

Interview conducted by Gregor Peter Schmitz in Washington

Published in German weekly newspaper “Die Zeit” on 17 February 2010
Source (German) http://www.zeit.de/politik/ausland/2010-02/iran-sorusch-revolutionsgarden

The Iranian dissident Abdelkarim Soroush considers the Revolutionary Guards the major threat to his country. Yet he believes that a change of power might soon take place.

Iran's opposition is protesting against restrictions of freedom of opinion and the presidential elections which they believe have been rigged (© AFP/Getty Images)

The Iranian oppositionist Abdelkarim Soroush believes that a change of power might soon take place in his country. “I am not a prophet. But I think something big might happen within one or two years”, said Soroush, a prominent religious philosopher and mastermind of the reformist movement in Iran, in an interview with the ZEIT. “Not a revolution, but a change of power. Everyone except the government admits that the country is living through a deep crisis.”

In Soroush’s opinion, the main problem of the country is not President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: “It is not Ahmadinejad who poses a threat. He is just a puppet of the Revolutionary Guards. This is why in our manifesto we are calling for the dissolution of their economic enterprises.”

Iran’s opposition movement under the leadership of former presidential candidate Mir Hossein Moussavi accuses the regime of rigging the presidential elections of last summer. On occasion of the anniversary of Iran’s revolution on January [sic] 11, the movement had called for rallies to protest against the regime. The turnout, however, was by far lower than expected.

The Revolutionary Guards were formed after the Revolution of 1979 to safeguard the Islamic Republic. Today, they are regarded as the pillar of the Islamic System, and as a major recourse for the controversial President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The troop of 125,000 men operates a network of companies, banks and other facilities, and is said to be the key player in Iran’s disputed nuclear program. Apart from that, the elite force of Iran’s armed forces plays a leading role in the crackdown on the protests of opposition supporters against Ahmadinejad’s disputed re-election.

At an international level, Iran is suspected to carry out secret research aimed at the construction of an atomic bomb. Shortly before the pending decision about new UN sanctions against Iran, the US government had harshened their tone in addressing the leadership in Tehran. During her visit to the emirate of Qatar, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton claimed that the Islamic Republic is drifting toward a military dictatorship, with the Revolutionary Guards as the major players who are in the process of gradually seizing the Iranian system.

Published in Swedish daily Sydsvenska Dagbladet on 15 February 2010
Source (Swedish): http://sydsvenskan.se/varlden/article629816/Jag-kunde-inte-se-mitt-barn-i-ogonen.html
Translated by Anusche Noring

By Kinga Sandén

Green balloons set up by demonstrators are still hanging opposite the Iranian embassy.

In January, Mohammed Reza Heydari resigned from his job as Iran’s consul in Oslo in protest. Since then, he and his family have been subjected to heavy pressure from the regime. Nevertheless, he says that 27 of his colleagues around the world are currently thinking of doing the same thing.

OSLO. Money and a comfortable life silenced diplomat Mohammed Reza Heydari’s conscience for twenty years. But after the bloodbath in Tehran in late December, he could not put up with it any longer.

“People just went out and asked where their votes had gone. For that they were killed in the streets. My conscience did not allow me to continue”, says 43-year-old Mohammed Reza Heydari, while parking his silver beige Mercedes outside a three-storey block of flats in Oslo’s embassy district.

He turns off the car stereo with Akbar Golpayegani’s melancholic song, while his conscience comes walking through the entrance. His conscience wears fixed braces, sagging jeans and a green silk scarf thrown over his shoulder. They exchange a few words as they meet, stand close and look each other in the eyes.

The diplomat’s conscience is 17 years old and his name is Javad. In mid-June of last year, when the regime brutally suppressed the protests against the alleged fraud in the presidential election, Javad asked his father:
“How can you work for Iran, when they jail people like me?”
“That is just Western propaganda”, Mohammed Reza Heydari answered.
“My friends ask me why you work for them. They are killing people in the streets.”
“It is not the government that kills.”

But when he was alone, Mohammed Reza Heydari sat down and watched video clips and browsed Iranian and foreign websites. One day, over the plastic lunch boxes in the embassy lunch room, he asked out of the blue:
“What is it that we are doing in Iran?”

His six or seven colleagues went silent. Yes, indeed, they had also been doing some thinking.
“Should we not condemn the killing?”

Someone said:
“Are you sure that it is true?”

Mohammed Reza Heydari was summoned to his chargé d’affaires, the second highest ranked diplomat at the embassy, who said:
“You already had one problem: we know that you advised your friends to vote for Mousavi. Now you have two.”

He beckoned Mohammed Reza Heydari to join him behind the desk and pointed at his computer screen. A surveillance film shot on the slope below the embassy showed a group of protesters shouting “death to the dictator”. Right in the middle of them stood Javad.

His conscience.

“For twenty years, I had had a good and well-paid job, a beautiful home, a nice car. I was not rich, but I lived a good life. I was afraid of losing everything and ending up with a lot of problems.”

The first time his own conscience made itself felt was when he returned to Iran after his previous post abroad in Germany. The current president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had taken office in 2005, following Mohammad Khatami, who had been working to gradually reform Iranian society and lead it in a more democratic direction.

Mohammed Reza Heydari was assigned a position at the airport, questioning those who were travelling abroad. It struck him how many young, educated citizens were leaving the country.
“Iran is a rich country, we should not have to lose our people. But the young people want to get out. They have no freedom, and it is difficult for them to get a job. You need to have contacts.”

Heydari himself was born without privileges. His father was a baker who supported the family by baking the thin traditional loaves known as taftoon and lavash. His mother was a housewife and took care of the nine children.

None of his brothers and sisters wanted to get an education, so his father wanted at least his youngest son, Mohammed Reza, to go to university. After graduating from law school, the obvious choice for Mohammad Reza was to take the admission exam for the Iranian foreign service’s trainee programme. The aim was to obtain a secure government position which would guarantee a high salary and offer opportunities to see the world.

However, before getting there, he had to complete his military service. He returned from the Iraq front with shrapnel injuries in his left arm and leg.

“What I learned from the war? Nothing. To kill the enemy.”

At that time, he was not much older than his son is now. To his superior at the embassy, Mohammed Reza Heydari had replied: “What Javad does is not my problem. He has grown up, what can I do?”

But at home, he could not get away that easily. Javad showed him the YouTube clip of the young woman who was shot in the chest and died in a pool of blood on a street in Tehran.

He said: “You killed Neda.”
“I could not look my child in the eyes.”

Mohammed Reza Heydari negotiated with himself. Things could still take a different turn. He could wait and see. Finally he made up his mind: If the Islamic regime killed people during Ashura, the mourning ceremony during the holy month of Muharram when no violence must occur – in that case, he would say enough is enough.

Ashura arrived. A week later, Mohammed Reza Heydari announced his defection on the Norwegian television channel NRK. On 7 January, he submitted his resignation. The embassy denied his defection, and claimed that his term of service had simply expired.

A former colleague called him and told him that two officials from the foreign ministry had come from Iran to see him. Mohammed Reza Heydari did not allow them inside his home. He met them standing in the cold downstairs in the entrance, where the police officers guarding him could see them.

“They wanted me to say that my defection had been made up by Western journalists. I was to be received at the airport in Tehran and take part in a TV reportage in which I would deny everything. If I did so, I could keep my job, and if I needed money or anything else, I could have it.”

Now, his bank account is frozen. He considers his house in Iran to be lost. His brothers and sisters are constantly being called in for questioning and are being told that their brother is a betrayer. One of his brothers has been dismissed from his job at a government agency.

But one of his sisters has told him that people keep stopping her in the street to tell her they are proud of what her brother is doing for Iran. And in Oslo, he can hardly go out without people approaching to thank him and pay him their respects.
“I have lost much, but I have gained a lot too. It is important that the world knows. I am happy that I have done something good for others.”

His wife is having a harder time.
“She is depressed. Before, we would always socialise with friends from the embassy. But nobody comes over any more,” he says, pointing to the empty seats in the red velvet corner couch.

The flat is rented by the embassy, and the family must move out by the end of the month. If they are granted asylum in Norway, they intend to learn Norwegian – unlike the two sons, the parents have hardly learned anything of the language in the two years they have spent there – and to work. To begin with, Heydari plans to write a book about his twenty years in the Islamic Republic’s service and to start a counselling centre for exiled Iranians.

So far, everyone is after him: human rights organisations, journalists, political parties and associations. Today, he has an appointment at the Norwegian foreign ministry.
“I will tell them to press for human rights instead of focusing exclusively on nuclear weapons. It means a lot to the people of Iran to see that the world has not forgotten them.”

He does not believe in sanctions and boycotts, since they cause poverty and unemployment and will give the regime an external enemy to blame all the hardships on. Targeted sanctions against the leaders, however, can be effective, he says and suggests freezing bank accounts, confiscating property abroad, cancelling visas and stopping all invitations to international meetings for the leaders and their families.
“Prevent their children from studying abroad. If the Iranian education system is so great, they might as well study there. And close down the mosques where they spread their lies. Why should Iran be allowed to run mosques in Europe while European organisations are not allowed to operate in Iran?”

Even though Mohammed Reza Heydari is a devout Muslim, he advocates a secular form government.
“We have tried mixing religion and politics for three decades. It does not work.”

As soon as the regime falls, he intends to go back. He believes that the Islamic Republic has one or two years left at the most.

He has been contacted by 27 diplomats in Europe and Asia who are currently considering following his example. He jots down the number 27 on the piece of paper lying before him, with a dot before and another one after and two lines underneath.
“They are just like I was – they work for the system and the system gives them everything. But our children grow up and ask us who we are, and we must answer them.”

Mohammed Reza Heydari is being protected both by the Norwegian police and by his bodyguard Hossein Ali, who also finds the time to play Heroes of Hellas with the diplomat’s youngest son Amir. “My friends say it is better that we stay here, because Norway does not have a president who kills people,” says 13-year-old Amir.

“I am happy that my dad did the right thing,” says 17-year-old Javad and rushes off, while bodyguard Hossein Ali keeps a check on things

(all photos by Jenny Leyman )

Published in “Badische Zeitung” (BZ) on January 11 2009
Source (German): http://ow.ly/VbWY

The conflict in Iran is coming to a head: The state confronts demonstrators by brutal force. BZ editor Annemarie Rösch discussed the situation with Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate from Tehran.

Shirin Ebadi | photo: AFP

BZ: Ms Ebadi, when will you return to Iran?
Ebadi: Iran is my base. My husband is there, my family. Due to the difficult situation, there is currently more that I can do for my country from abroad. If I return to Iran, everything can happen to me. You see, my sister was arrested just recently. They have taken my sister hostage, because none of my children is in Iran. My husband also is in danger in Iran. However, I will not do what they want me to do, I will not be silent.

BZ: Do you consider yourself a member of the opposition?
Ebadi: I am a human rights activist. I must not side with any one position. I do not belong to any of the opposition groups.

BZ: Currently it looks like protests are growing. What is your opinion on that?
Ebadi: Meanwhile, there are protests even in minor cities. People continue to take to the streets, knowing that they might even be killed during a demonstration. This shows how serious they are about their protest against the regime. On the other hand, much less people followed Ahmadinejad’s invitation to join the pro-government rallies – even though Ahmadinejad’s people rewarded them for their participation.

BZ: Do the protesters want the regime to be reformed from within, or do they prefer to abolish it?
Ebadi: Currently, the slogan is still “Death to the dictator”. This means that the protesters above all want Ahmadinejad to resign. Their peaceful protests show that they want a peaceful reform from within – for now. However, they might eventually start chanting “death to the system”. The regime should listen to the demands of the Iranians. If they don’t, the protests will turn more radical.

BZ: Can the revolutionary leader Ali Khamenei actually still afford to cling to president Ahmadinejad, whom the opposition accuses of electoral fraud?
Ebadi: Right now there is no indication that Khamenei is ready to abandon Ahmadinejad. However, everything is possible in Iran.

BZ: What is your interpretation of the aggressive actions of the regime against the opposition?
Ebadi: Khamenei and Ahmadinejad both know how dangerous the situation is for them. That’s why there is an increasing extent of violence. The more a regime feels threatened, the more it will resort to violence – everywhere in the world.

BZ: Allegedly, Ahmadinejad has expanded his influence on the clergy. What is your view on that?
Ebadi: Ayatollah Khamenei still controls everything. The question is, however, how long this will last.

BZ: What is the role of the paramilitary Revolutionary Guards who so brutally confront the protesters?
Ebadi: Well, what is striking is that Ahmadinejad has given the Revolutionary Guards access to many key positions. Today even the Chief Prosecutor has an aide who is a member of the Revolutionary Guards. That the military has such an important position in the judiciary is unprecedented.

BZ: Is it possible that the regime of the clergy will be replaced by a military dictatorship?
Ebadi: As I said, currently everything is possible in Iran – even a military dictatorship.

BZ: Could Iran become the first democratic state in the Near East?
Ebadi: I wish that. I hope that negotiations will take place between the regime and the opposition before violence escalates. Since the Iranians still remember very well how painful the revolution 30 years ago was for them, how many people died, I still hope for a reconciliation of the different political camps.

BZ: What kind of democracy do the protesters have in mind?
Ebadi: Many probably wish for a democratic system where state and religion are separate. This is what I personally would prefer as well. However, this separation is not the most important thing for me. There are secular states that do not deserve to be called democracies. What Iran needs is truly free elections. How exactly this democracy will look like in the end needs to be negotiated.

Published in German weekly magazine “Stern” on January 10 2010
Source (German): http://stern.de/politik/ausland/iranischer-oppositionssprecher-chamenei-ist-geldgierig-und-korrupt-1533978.html
English translation kindly provided by Elli

Mohsen Makhmalbaf is a close friend of opposition leader Mir Hossein Moussavi and is regarded as his official press spokesman in Western Europe

What is the current situation in Iran? The regime is corrupt, the president is finished, and the Mullah-regime is not going to survive this year. This is at least claimed by an exiled opposition member and Mousavi adviser, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, in an interview with the German magazine „Stern“.

Mr. Makhmalbaf, why did you support the Islamic Revolution when you were young?
I was 17 years old at that time. Like the young generation today, I wanted to overthrow a completely corrupt system. But I was disappointed already after five years. Now, after more than thirty years, I do not have any more illusions.

What exactly disappointed you?
In the beginning, we thought that the idea of an Islamic Revolution was good, that Khomeini was good, that only the people surrounding him were the problem. But this changed quickly, since especially the artists among us soon got to see that this ideology is incompatible with freedom. After a few years, we knew that the revolution was headed in a wrong direction. The new rulers took the money to their pockets just as the old ones had done. A king, the Shah, had to leave, and the next clan of kings bags even more money than before. These were often people from an underprivileged background. Like Ahmadinejad…

Very little is being heard about him. What is up with him?
He does not play a role anymore, he is just a mouthpiece of the real leader of Iran, Khamenei. Since he confirmed Ahmadinejad as President, the protest is only directed at Khamenei.

Is Khamenei corrupt as well?
Everyone is constantly talking about the wealth of Ahmadinejad and Rafsanjani, but no one is talking about Khamenei, although he makes more money than anyone else. All arms deals with Russia and China are controlled by him and his clan. These transactions amount to billions of dollars. And the oil that is delivered in return, also worth billions, brings him profits as well.

Do the Iranians know this?
Unfortunately, they do not. Khamenei likes to act the humble, modestly living religious leader. Like Khomeini did before him. In reality he is a completely corrupt and greedy dictator who has diverted at least 36 billions of dollars for himself and his family.

How do you know this?
On my website I published an article, titled „The secrets of Khamenei’s life“, which is based on accounts from secret service members who went into exile and from former employees. […] (Some details from the original article are given here.)

Will the Green movement be stopped by the mass arrests of the last days?
Never. The Green movement is not based on the leadership of certain individuals. It is based on a whole generation. Who can arrest millions of young people? The young Iranians do not want to wait any longer. They do not want to attain democracy in a hundred years, they want it now. And their requests are becoming stronger all the time. They will not be satisfied with toppling a few people, now many want to overthrow the whole system. I also believe that the regime will be destroyed in less than one year.

In the West, we believe that Ahmadinejad’s power is based on the support of the poor. Is that true?
No, not at all. This is an error often made by foreign journalists. Under his presidency, oil revenue has increased more than fourfold, but nothing has reached the poor. To the contrary, they have less and less, while everything is becoming more expensive. Where has all the money gone?

Recently we saw tens of thousands of people protesting in favour of the government. What kind of people are they?
These are nothing other than paid actors, like in a film. They receive money for cheering in the streets.

Recently a spectacular video has emerged from Sirjan, a town in Southern Iran. It shows how police officers are attacked by an angry crowd who then rescue two men from the gallows. What does this reaction tell you about the atmosphere in Iran?
Half a year ago people would have been standing by and watching the execution silently. But now the hatred of the police is so strong that people do not put up with it anymore. It is also telling that the video immediately appeared on Facebook, where people can be targeted more effectively than via Youtube. Facebook has now become the most important place for exchanging information inside Iran. It allows to audience can be targeted more

The official information is that the two men who had been sentenced to death were caught later and were executed. Is this credible?
No, it sounds like propaganda by the regime.

What is the role of religion in Iran today? Is it still as powerful as thirty years ago?
Not at all. The countries all around are becoming more and more religious, but it is going the opposite way in Iran: we made horrible experiences with a political religion. Many people have had enough, they believe that religion is a private affair, that Islam should be kept out of politics. One of our central requirements is that politics should not be based on religious power, our aim is that of secularisation.

Is this realizable or is it only a dream?
We are convinced that we have a real chance. After thirty years of religious dictatorship, terror in the name of God, and rape in prisons, the reputation of religion has been severely damaged. Iran becomes more and more disconnected from religion with every day that the regime stays in power.
Every day brings us closer to a secular state.

If tomorrow Israel attacked Iran’s nuclear facilities, how would the population react?
We do not want a nuclear bomb, only Khamenei wants it. But an attack by Israel would strengthen Khamenei, he would be backed by the people again, because nobody wants to be attacked by Israel.

What is your attitude towards tougher sanctions?
We support some types of sanctions, intelligent sanctions that target the regime, the Revolutionary Guards. These people exploit the rest of the population, they control everything. Most Iranians would agree to smart sanctions. But if the whole population were affected by the sanctions, most people would say: The government is killing us, and the other countries punish us for it.

What is the difference between the current movement and that of thirty year ago, which also had the aim of toppling a hated regime?
Then we only knew what we did not want, which was the Shah and his corrupt system. Today we know exactly what we want: democracy.

Published on German public radio channel “Deutschlandradio” on January 9 2010
Source (German): http://www.dradio.de/dlf/sendungen/einewelt/1101749/

About the goals of the “Green Movement” in Iran
By Katayoun Amirpour

Earlier this week, five exiled Iranian intellectuals published a statement summarizing the goals of the protest movement in Iran: What they demand is not a revolution, but merely a reform of the existing constitution.

The regime in Tehran is enforcing their massive actions against the critical public, for example, by imposing strict censorship, and banning any open political discussion and exchange of views between the people in the country. What remains is the internet, the virtual space – like the youtube channel of the Green Movement, where Hamid Dabashi, Professor for Iranian studies at the American Columbia University, invited for a review of the past week.

Internet access, however, is being more and more impeded too, especially opposition websites are often being blocked. This is why many Iranians in Iran resort to the American channel “Voice of America” and the British BBC, i. e. BBC’s Persian program. Those who look for information or want to discuss and exchange issues, listen to radio programs. Like Tuesday night of this week. The outstanding subject: The declaration of the Five, the list of demands of the “Green Movement”.

Five of the most renowned Iranian intellectuals, all of them currently living abroad due to the repressive situation in Iran, demand president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s resignation. They maintain that he is not the elected president of Iran and owes his new term in office to electoral fraud. They call for fresh elections and demand the release of all political prisoners. They call for freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and generally for all office holders to be elected for a limited period of time. This demand includes the position of the religious leader, the supreme, most important figure of the state who at present is being elected for life. He, the religious leader Ali Khamenei, of all is held responsible by the five intellectuals for the bloody crackdown on last summer’s protests, by which in their view he has lost the legitimacy to rule.

The five intellectuals want to replace the “despotic jurist”, as they call Ali Khamenei. For many Iranians, this breaks a taboo, while for others it is a long overdue demand. However, the five intellectuals want to achieve this by acting within the framework of the constitution. Thus, Mohsen Kadivar, one of the authors of the statement, stresses that they by no means seek to abolish the Islamic Republic:

“This statement is based on what is currently possible in Iran. We have tried to avoid the very mistake that is made by most expat Iranians abroad. The mistake is that some [expat] Iranians, who have not visited Iran for decades, do not consider whether their demands are what the majority of Iranians really wants, and whether an implementation of these demands is actually realistic.”

Mohsen Kadivar has been living in the USA for 18 months. Originally he accepted an invitation to teach Iranian studies for 2 semesters. Based in the USA, however, he has now become one of the major mouthpieces of the “Green Movement”. Due to limited communication it is difficult to estimate how many supporters or sympathizers this movement really has today. The movement itself assumes that during the past months several millions of sympathizers have added to the number of nearly 70 % of the population, who the opposition believes to have voted for Mir Hossein Moussavi and not for Ahmadinejad – according to official wording. The regime has made too many mistakes. The events of the past months, the bloodshed, the killings and torture in the prisons, the show trials – all this allegedly has motivated even more people to support the “Green Movement”.

However, despite the fact that more and more people turn away from Ali Khamenei and the regime, Kadivar cautions against a misinterpretation of the situation. People abroad often talk about Iran being on the verge of a new revolution:

“Thirty years after the last revolution, the majority of Iranians have no desire for a second one. Instead, most Iranians want institutional and basic changes of the system. This is why we can refer to this movement as a reformist movement that has revolutionary goals, but is acting absolutely non-violently, cautiously, and within the framework of the existing laws. Therefore, in our statement we were mindful to be in line with the constitution of the Islamic Republic. And we tried to highlight those parts of the constitution that comply with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and with the principles of democracy. However, in places where the regime rules a dictatorial interpretation of the constitution, we want to point out that there is another, a democratic reading of our constitution.”

For this reason, Kadivar is basically very optimistic about the future of the movement:

“What has been happening in Iran during the past months is unprecedented, nothing similar has happened in the past 30 years. One result of the “Green Movement” is this: Previously, it was a certain social class that criticized the rulers, it was the elite, the intellectuals. Today everybody does it. For the people know about the crimes and the code violations committed by the Islamic Republic. Another result is that the people have begun to believe in their own strength. They now say: We are all together, let’s not be afraid. This can be heard in the universities and in the streets of Tehran all the time now. Yes, the feeling of togetherness is new. In the past, people were afraid. Now they have become brave. And this bravery is worth a lot.”

In the “Green Movement”, Iranians of different age and social background come together. Similarly different are the views of the five intellectuals who now published their list of demands. Akbar Ganji, for example, is known to be a radical secularist. He caused a stir in the past months saying that the Quran is not the word of God. This is a view that Mohsen Kadivar as a cleric does not share.

However, the fact that these five signatories with their different views represent different streams is their major strength – they can unite many people. Moreover, all members of this group of five say that what they have described in their statement is their least common denominator, a working basis. Where Iran and the movement will be heading in case these minimum demands will be implemented is an open-ended question.

Akbar Ganji also had an interview with BBC:

“Our statement intends to support the opposition leaders in Iran. We must clearly express our minimum demands so that a consensus can be reached. This will help us to bring forward the Green Movement.”

The protests against the regime do not stop, and the regime feels more and more cornered. This is probably the reason why giving interviews to BBC is now a punishable act. However, that the persons in charge in Tehran do in fact listen to BBC can be understood from the unfriendly comments made about the group of five in the official Iranian media.

Published in “Der Spiegel” on January 2 2010
Source (German): http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/0,1518,669812,00.html#ref=rss

According to the son of the late Grand Ayatollah and dissident Hossein Ali Montazeri, Iran now is at a crossroads. In an interview with SPIEGEL, Saeed Montazeri warns of the fall of the theocratic state. Should Iran’s opposition leader Moussavi be killed, this would have “disastrous” consequences.

Photo: Reuters

“It can not go on like this”, says Saeed Montazeri, 47, in an Interview with SPIEGEL. The son of Grand Ayatollah and regime critic Hossein Ali Montazeri, who died recently at the age of 87, believes that the opposition protests could soon turn violent as well. If “young people have to witness their friends being beaten up, arrested, or even shot dead in broad daylight, any attempt to persuade them to show restraint will soon be fruitless”, says Montazeri. “And, to be honest: I find that understandable, even though I do not approve of it.”

Montazeri warns that the arrest or killing of Iran’s opposition leader Hossein Moussavi would have “disastrous” consequences. The shooting of Moussavi’s nephew during a demonstration in Tehran just a few days ago “without doubt was a purposeful act”, says Montazeri. This act was “planned well in advance” and possibly was meant as a “kind of final warning” to Moussawi. On Friday, Moussavi had announced that he is ready to “die as a martyr”.

According to Montazeri, the government bodies are “solely responsible” for the escalation of the recent protests in Iran, that have claimed numerous deaths. He justifies the brutality of protesters as counter-violence: “Ordinary people have no interest in setting property on fire. All they want is demonstrate for their legitimate interests. They were provoked by the government.”

Montazeri, son of reformist politician and cleric Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, adds that he hopes there will no blood bath, but that “the rulers come to their senses. I still hope (…) that they will be ready to compromise and walk the path of national reconciliation. If they don’t, my homeland in one year will be in a much worse condition than today,” warns Montazeri, who talked to SPIEGEL on the phone from the city of Qom in Iran.

He believes: “The form of our future society is not even that important. It could be an Islamic Republic, a secular republic, I will even be fine with a monarchy”. The only thing that really matters is “that the people can live in freedom and prosperity. That they can move freely, and that their voices are heard.”


Translator’s note:

Just after publishing this translation I learned that this interview is also available in Persian 🙂

An English article by Reuters on this interview can be read here:

Broadcasted by public radio channel “Deutschlandfunk” on December 28 2009
Source (German): http://www.dradio.de/dlf/sendungen/interview_dlf/1094596/

Bahman Nirumand in an interview with Silvia Engels

The Iranian regime is in a situation of entrapment, says Bahman Nirumand. The writer and publicist was born in Tehran and has been living in Germany for many years. He adds, however, that the opposition is also facing threats of fragmentation.

Silvia Engels:
Yesterday, religious Shiites held the festival of Ashura, which for representatives of the Shiite orientation of Islam is one of the most important religious festivals. The opposition in Iran used the ceremonies for more protests against the government of president Ahmadinejad. Foreign journalists were not allowed to cover the events, which is why there are diverging reports on the incidents. What seems certain, though, is that some demonstrators were killed.
Bahman Nirumand was born in Tehran and has been living in Germany and in Iran. Initially, he had protested against the arbitrariness of the Shah regime and had to flee. After the Islamic Revolution of 1979 he returned, but it only took a few years until he had to leave Iran again for his criticism. Currently, he lives in Germany. Good morning, Mr Nirumand.

Bahman Nirumand:
Good morning, Ms Engels.

You still have connections with Iran. What did you hear about the protests of last night?

It is absolutely clear that yesterday’s protests represent a qualitative leap. The behaviour shown by the protesters was much more radical than in previous demonstrations, thus things are developing dramatically, so to speak, advancing at a frantic pace. It is difficult to predict how the situation will continue, what will be the outcome. In any case, I believe that the regime is in a dilemma. On the one hand, they are, in my view, no longer able to finish off with the demonstrations and simply massacre the protesters, although many deaths are said to have occured. However, they do not dare to use the military, because that might cause a rift within the military. They can not give in either, because it is long too late for that. The Iranian regime is in a situation of entrapment.

Let us have a look at the state of the power struggle that goes on within the Iranian leadership. Some months ago it was already noticeable that there were quite different views about the course within the establishment. What are your observations? Is there still a power struggle going on behind the scenes?

Yes. This power struggle had started already prior to the elections in June and is now continuing, to an extent that this establishment, this leadership is actually disrupted. There is no clear leadership anymore. Considering that presidents, speakers of parliament, members of parliament, persons who used to be in key positions, today belong to the opposition, considering that a president like Khatami can not even finish his speech because he is interrupted by attacks of the Hezbollah – on Sunday he had to quit his speech and leave the room – you can no longer call this a leadership of the state. The radicalism displayed by Ahmadinejad again yesterday is like a cry of despair. [translator’s note: literal translation would be “cry in the woods”]

Mr Nirumand, let us also talk about the other side then, since the opposition is probably in the process of radicalization, something that you mentioned before. Comparing today’s protests with those of June, people might not take to the streets in their hundreds of thousands as before, however, those who take to the streets are prepared to face violence, and act violently. Is the opposition facing its fragmentation?

Yes, this is a huge danger, for as you know: Mir Hossein Moussavi, the former prime minister and defeated candidate for the elections, as well as the other defeated candidate, Karroubi, they used to be the leaders [of the opposition], and they had repeatedly emphasized that they operate within the framework of the constitution, that they actually just call for reforms and demand free elections. They expressed demands that fit in with the framework of the constitution. In yesterday’s protests, however, we saw clearly that the direction [of the people’s demands] goes beyond the system, the protests directly attack the revolutionary leader Khamenei, and people want a different system.

What do you expect for the next days?

Probably there will be attempts to establish a consensus within the opposition. Nobody knows if these attempts will succeed. On the other hand, the leadership – or what is left of it – will have to find ways of coping with the situation. Iran is now in a very difficult situation, this is true both for the opposition and for the leadership, and we have to wait and see how things will develop. I do not think that anybody can make specific predictions right now. In addition, there are several international issues, the foreign policy, that have now reached a dead end as well. Therefore, it is very difficult to make a definite statement about Iran’s future at this point.

Published in “Der Spiegel” on November 29, 2009

Blindfolded, interrogated, kept in a tiny cell: Because he took pictures of a demonstration, the German student and blogger Florian Witulski was detained in Iran for days. In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE he talks about the conditions of his detention.

Photo: Florian Witulski, http://www.vaitor.com/

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Mr Witulski, on November 8 the Iranian news agency announced that two Germans were released from prison. You were one of them. What had happened?

Witulski: I was in a taxi, near a demonstration on occasion of the 30th anniversary of the occupation of the US embassy in Tehran. I was pulled out of the car, because I had a camera with me. I had been taking pictures of the demonstration before.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Who pulled you out of the taxi?

Witulski: They were two members of the paramilitary Basij militias.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What happened afterwards?

Witulski: I was blindfolded and put into a car. I kept trying to explain in English that I was just a tourist and did not do anything illegal, but they just took my belongings and did not tell me anything. After that, we were in the car driving for about one and a half hours, and I was put into a cell.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Was your cell part of a larger prison complex?

Witulski: All I know is that it was a small solitary cell.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: How did they treat you?

Witulski: They did not beat me, but it was pretty rough. It started already in the car, when they kept pushing down my head, practically I was blindfolded the entire time, and they kept jostling me. I could take breaks and rest, but the numerous interrogations carried out by constantly changing people were pretty exhausting indeed.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What did your cell look like?

Witulski: There was a rug, nothing else. They gave me water and small portions of rice, but hardly any information. One of the wardens spoke some English and he told me that I would soon be released. That was all I found out.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Were you scared?

Witulski: Definitely. The cell really gave me an uneasy feeling. The wall was splattered with blood, the atmosphere was frightful.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What did they want from you?

Witulski: Information. They kept asking me why I was in Iran, why I took pictures, why I travelled to Iran now of all times, for whom I was working.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What did you tell them?

Witulski: I told them that I was in Iran as a tourist, that I was interested in the demonstrations. I assume they considered me to be a spy. I had a notebook with me, with notes, sketches, phone numbers. They asked me a lot of questions about that.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Did you see other inmates and how they were treated?

Witulski: No, but for a short time I was in another prison that belonged to the regular police, where they kept Iranian inmates. I don’t know whether they got beaten. But many of them were injured, had wounds in their faces, and black eyes.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Were you really just a tourist?

Witulski: Yes, I only came to Iran for traveling.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Have you been formally charged or convicted?

Witulski: After two days they handed me over to the police, where I was again interrogated. Then they took my passport and my camera, and I was allowed to return to the hotel. A couple of days later they took me to court, where they asked me questions again, but in the end it seems I was released, and they returned my passport to me.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you know who the second German citizen was?

Witulski: No, I have no idea.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Were your Iranian acquaintances whose addresses you had with you bothered in any way?

Witulski: I had a few phone numbers of Iranians with me indeed, and the authorities in those cases did carry out investigations. They were interrogated, the house of one of them was raided. I phoned them all afterwards, nothing worse has happened to them.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Was the German embassy able to help you?

Witulski: The police did not even report my arrest to the German embassy. I myself notified them after my release. They did their best, but they could not really help me. They just advised me to leave the country as soon as possible.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: And that’s what you did. Where are you at the moment?

Witulski: I am in Lahore, Pakistan.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: So your adventure trip continues?

Witulski: Yes. But after Pakistan I will return home.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Are you going to travel to Iran again?

Witulski: I will try. It was nevertheless a fantastic journey. You have to accurately distinguish between the regime and the population.

Interview: Yassin Musharbash.

Published in “Neues Deutschland” on November 28, 2009

Translator’s note:
I am aware that most of my readers might not be overly surprised by what Ms Parsa has to say about the elections and the green movement. Of course, opinions like this can be heard in- and outside Iran, and the content of this interview does probably not present anything new to informed readers.
The reason why I decided to translate this interview is another one. This interview presents the green movement to German readers in a certain light, meaning that it has a whatever small influence on how the green movement is perceived in Germany. For example, an average German reader will be captured by Ms Parsa’s remarks about Zahra Rahnavard and the hejab issue. Comparing wives to cars is something that immediately arouses objection in almost every reader, it subtly creates consent and thus legitimizes the rest of the interview in the average reader’s mind.
Therefore, I consider this interview to be part of the things going on outside Iran that the movement inside Iran might want to be aware of. – When I was thinking about whether and why to translate this article for germantoenglish, I consulted some friends, and after one minute we found ourselves in a lively and also controversial discussion, discovering that there are always important points to talk about, even though you believe that you basically agree on everything. Articles like this might be annoying, but they give us an opportunity to grow and stay alert.


Nasrin Parsa, a publicist living in Germany since 1985, about the Iranian opposition

ND: Ms Parsa, did you travel to Iran, the country where you were born, for reasons of your curiosity as a journalist only?
Parsa: The Western countries have vehemently supported the “Green Wave” (editor’s note: this is how Parsa refers to the green-clad demonstrators against the government). The support was so strong that I asked myself “who are they?” In the West, and, as I observed, also in Germany, masses of posters with the slogans of the defied presidential candidate Mir Hossein Moussavi were spread prior to demonstrations of the opposition, most of them were printed abroad. And I think it was not cheap to have them printed.

So how “green” is the country?
I had seen pictures of the demonstrations on CNN before, and talked to friends and realatives in Iran, and I have to say that many families are divided. The media in this country always show just one side, the oppositional side. But there are demonstrations of supporters of the other side as well. I attended some of the rallies in Tehran, and I felt reminded of the times of the block confrontation. One side was chanting “Death to Russia! Death to China!” The other side was responding with “Death to America! Death to Israel!”, and also “Death to Palestine”, because people are told that it is Iran’s support for Palestinian opposition groups that plunges Iranians into poverty. Only then came the call for freedom and the demands of the social movements. There truly are enough reasons for the people to stand up, but I saw “foreign interests” dominating “our demonstrations”.

How do you explain the protests against Russia?
They reflect the views of “foreign broadcasting stations”. Both Washington TV and Voice of America (VoA), both broadcasting in Persian, are financed by the US government. These media feel obliged to confront China and Russia. For them, Russia is a synonym for Stalin, China for Pol Pot [sic]. And many people believe it. They also are anti-Russia because Russia was one of the first countries of the world to acknowledge Ahmadinejad’s re-election, and because Iran and Russia have a nuclear cooperation. All this is repeatedly mentioned on VoA. However, it is worthwhile remembering the original reasons for the demonstrations: It was about the results of the presidential elections and the question whether Ahmadinejad is the legitimate winner of the election or not. And the Iranians have used the elections, and then the demonstrations, also to express their dissatisfaction with the development over the past 30 years.

For example what?
After the Islamic Revolution, certain groups of the population were stigmatized and oppressed. The first group to be tackled by the new regime in this way was the women. After the women, the critical student movement was targeted by the state. And in the 90ies, there were ominous serial murders of oppositional journalists and writers. Iran is suffering from corruption, inflation, unemployment, and organized crime. Thus, there were manifold reasons to protest against the government. In my perception, a large majority nevertheless voted for Ahmadinejad.

Who, in your opinion, supports Ahmadinejad, and who is opposes him?
To make it short: I think that the “greens” got the votes of large parts of the middle class, especially in Tehran. It was above all the Bazaris, the tradespeople, who supported the “Green Wave”: by management and promotion. Whereas for Ahmadinejad voted above all the poor people, the lower middle class and the socially deprived. When you leave Tehran and go to smaller cities and villages, you will notice that hardly anybody talks against Ahmadinejad – on the contrary. Many still remember the years of the American presence. Their nightmare is to be bombed by them, and in the face of this trauma of new threats they consider Ahmadinejad to be the fist against the USA.

What does the middle class expect from the opposition?
One example: I know a wealthy family who now is supporting the “Greens”, they are old friends of Ayatollah Khomeini. In his lifetime they gave him “zakat”, the charity tax which is one of the basic duties of every Muslim. Today they say that they do not want the system to be changed, however, they want their rich foreign customers back that they do not have right now.

What about all the young people who demonstrate against the government?
Many of them are unemployed and have no perspective. On TV they barely watch anything other than music channels like MTV. Therefore, they are very fixated on the West that they know only as the “golden” one from what they see on TV.
Other than the generation of the revolution, they are barely shaped by ideology. This year already 250 book stores had to close – not because the government banned them, but because they did not have enough customers. Unfortunately, a growing number of Iranians does not read books and hardly ever reads newspapers.

Maybe they would like to read different books?
I don’t think that this is the main reason. There are far fewer restrictions in Iran than people in Germany believe. For example, many bookstores in Tehran display the Communist Manifesto in their windows, and you can buy posters of Che Guevara. When I talked about this with a young woman, a student of literature, she asked me: “Who is Che Guevara?” She did not know him.
And this is the real problem of Iran. On TV, everything is about religion. Literature? Zero. Art? Zero. Children and adolescents barely learn anything except religion.
When I was 15, I wrote my first critical essay. Afterwards my father and I were summoned to the Savak, the secret police of the Shah. Only at home, through my father, I learned something about politics, social equality and things like that. Now, however, people have other opportunities. You can not compare it with the ruling of the Shah until 1979. At that time, that I experienced myself, people were killed when it was discovered that they possessed the Manifesto. Today everyone can read it in Persian. And we have many translations of other marxist and socialist writings. The best address for this kind of books is the University Street in Tehran.
Foreign influence on the media today takes place first of all via electronic media. However, the main reason why Iranians prefer foreign media is that their own, Iranian programs are so boring.

Let’s go back to the Iranian women. You said that the women were the first to suffer from the Islamic Revolution.
That’s true. Nevertheless, the women have fought to get back a piece of their freedom. Inch by inch, they have “shifted” their headscarves. Over the years, the headscarf has moved “backwards” about 30 centimeters. And in case the controllers do indeed find faults with the fit of the scarf, they simply say “oh, it slipped just now”.
Outside Tehran they are more strict though. The enforced compliance with religious codes today is first of all a tool to discipline the people and force them to keep still.

Rallies of the opposition still take place, but noticeably less than in the summer. Is the wave of protests gradually subsiding?
The confrontations will go on, because the problems have not been solved. And the people are no longer afraid to take to the streets. Many have started to believe in themselves again, and that they actually can bring about a change. Moreover, an idea was born: We want green! However, the problem of the mouthpieces of the “Greens” – Mir Hossein Moussavi and his supporter, former president Hashemi Rafsanjani – is that they do not have a program for the country. Most “Greens” do not specify their goals. In my mind I call them bio-islamists, because I believe that many of their slogans will expire soon.

And some of them take liberties with their former lives. Look at Zahra Rahnavard, for example. She was the first female Iranian to become a chancellor of a university after 1979, and she is Moussavi’s wife. In this country she is presented as a “woman of the revolution”. However, once she wrote the book “A veil for the muslim woman”. In this book, the problem is presented approximately like this: Imagine you buy a new car. You will certainly park it under a roof in order to protect it. The situation for a veiled woman is very similar. She ought to protect herself from the harmful environment by a veil…

The woman who wrote this is now regarded as the spearhead for women’s rights? Once she called for gender segregation in public. Today she walks in with a colorful headscarf and in tights. It was especially CNN who presented her like that. During the interview, she constantly adjusted her headscarf, moving it to the front of her head , because it was so colorful. I say: headscarf is headscarf, no matter if colorful or not.

The political struggle highlights the differences between both camps. Are there actually positions in which Ahmadinejad and Moussavi agree, for example the nuclear issue?
The opposition does not talk about this. Moussavi, though, said we do not need atom [literal translation of “wir bräuchten kein Atom” – “atom” is not specified]. I assume that Moussavi, if he was president, would meet the wishes of the West.
Right now we see that every Iranian who does something that attracts international attention is awarded a prize – as long as it can be assumed that he supports the opposition. Why? We did have excellent artists before, but they were barely noticed. Since two years ago this has changed. A photographer, for example, received a Golden Bear in Rome. She came in green clothes. This makes art look suspicious.

This will probably last until the end of the presidency of the incumbent. Do you actually believe that he manipulated the election results?
Everything can happen in Iran, so of course everything can happen in the elections. But it is impossible to manipulate 11 Million votes. However, I suppose that without a fraud there would have been a second ballot. That’s what the hardliners were afraid of.
One thing, however, is certain: A social movement has started in Iran that can not be stopped!

Interview: Roland Etzel

Nasrin Parsa lives in Frankfurt/Main, where she studied media sociology after leaving Iran, the country of her parents, in 1985. That was right in the middle of the war. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had attacked his neighbor Iran in 1980 in order to annex the province of Khuzestan in south-eastern Iran that is populated mainly by Arabs, hoping to be able to do this without encountering significant resistance from Tehran that was weakened after the turmoil of the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

The war ended in 1988 with the defeat of Iraq. At that time, Parsa was already abroad – fortunately, since in the last year of the war the invaders temporarily were in her home town Kermanshah as well – and in its wake, a part of the Iranian opposition in exile.

Today, the core of this opposition is barely weaker, but much farther away. In Germany, this core is also represented strongly, even more, loudly. They call themselves National Resistance Council Iran (NWRI), also known as the Mojaheddin of the People, and are considered to be the voice of Iranian exiles.

Before, during, and after the presidential election in Iran, the NRWI organized numerous demonstrations, hunger strikes, panel discussions, and other public events. The Iranians in exile all over the world really have left little undone to make it clear that they consider the result of the elections of 12. June in their former home country to be manipulated; rigged by the former and current president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Nasrin Parsa has been more a little more cautious from the beginning, also concerning the Iranian opposition’s allegations of electoral fraud. But she wanted to have a closer look and therefore travelled to Iran herself.

Addition by the translator:
For complementary reading and insight into Nasrin Parsa’s views. Interview with Nasrin Parsa from 2007 about the problems of Iranian women in Europe (Farsi)

Published on German TV channel NDR / media and politics November 22 2009 11:30 p.m.
Source (German): http://www3.ndr.de/sendungen/zapp/archiv/medien_politik/iran170.html
Video: http://www3.ndr.de/flash/zapp/interactivePlayer.html?xml=zappsendung156-interactiveBroadcasts.xml&sr=zapp&bid=iran168

Repression: Iranian journalists flee abroad
Intimidation, abduction, arrest – freedom of the press in Iran is and will remain mere wishful thinking. Since president Ahmadinejad manipulated the elections, the situation has become unbearable for journalists. For many of them, the internet is the last opportunity to report freely. However, they will now be deprived of this opportunity by the regime – with the help of a special unit for monitoring e-mails and websites. More than 100 bloggers and journalists are already imprisoned in Iran. Escape is their only way out.
Author: Stefan Buchen

She left everything behind. All she had on her when she arrived in Cologne some weeks ago was her backpack. Mitra Khalatbari was a journalist in Iran – an awarded one. Now she had to leave because the intelligence service was threatening her. This is how Mitra Khalatbari describes how she got out of Iran: “I did not leave Iran legally, but secretly, just like many other journalists did. It was an escape.” In her articles she spoke out against death penalty and for human rights. She published her articles in reformist Iranian newspapers. After the re-election of the hardliner Ahmadinejad on June 12, the situation for critical journalists like her became increasingly dangerous. As Mitra Khalatbari explains: “After the elections, one representative each of the public prosecution office and the censorship board supervised our work in the editorial offices of the reformist newspapers. They defined which articles would be published and which would not.” It was mid June, the time of the mass protests against the re-election of Ahmadinejad, when millions of people chanted “Death to the dictatorship”

Beating up the protesters
The regime felt threatened. Mitra was there, she took pictures although it was forbidden, she saw the courage that ordinary people took to stand up against the regime. Although she could not capture the brutal behavior of the security forces against the protesters – that would have been way too dangerous. But she witnessed it: “I saw how a boy got beaten up by three or four security forces. He was skinny and lank, 17 years old at the most. I felt powerless because I could not do anything.” After her newspaper, which supported the protest movement, was banned in August, she and many other journalists signed an appeal addressed to the leaders of the reformist movement and liberal clerics, calling on them to vigorously stand up against Ahmadinejad. The intelligence responded by massively threatening the signatories, among them was Mitra Khalatbari. “Just like they did with many other journalists, they intimidated me and summoned me by phone. But it got around that it is not a good idea to actually show up at those hearings, because it is possible that you simply vanish and get locked up, with nobody knowing anything about your whereabouts”. She secretly left the country, just like more than 100 other Iranian journalists. A real wave of escape is underway, as confirmed by Reporters without Borders. Dietrich Schlegel, member of Reporters without Borders, describes the situation as follows: “This is unprecedented. I would in fact call it an exodus. This extent, caused by this kind of repression which is imposed on the journalists, is unprecedented, even in other countries.” The regime is determined to violently suppress the unrests. Dozens of demonstrators already died, thousands of them were arrested. Reporters without Borders is trying to gather as much information as possible about the detained journalists. Dietrich Schlegel: “As far as we know, right now 24 journalists and bloggers are still in prison. They are mostly charged with attempts to overthrow the Islamic system or working for the United States, for the evil Satan, or for the Western powers.”

Propaganda show in a small-talk style
Pro-regime journalists staged a poor propaganda show on state-run TV stations. The former vice-president and mastermind of the reformist movement, Mohammad Ali Abtahi, dressed in his prison garb, was forced to confess and express regrets with the cameras running. The journalists in the courtroom had come to terms with the situation, had already become part of the coercive apparatus. And then, the tasteless encore: Abtahi and a fellow inmate have to give an exclusive interview, in a seemingly relaxed ambience. Mohammad Ali Abtahi in this interview said, in a coerced attempt of sounding casual: “I was treated really well in prison”, adding “I even became friendly with the interrogators.” The reporter asks: “May we believe this?” Mohammad Ali Abtahi’s answer: “Yes, the interrogators have been very empathetic.”

Mitra Khalatbari knows the colleagues who work for the state TV. She says: „Many journalists who work for the state-run TV stations are convinced of what they do, and it doesn’t even cross their minds that the public does no longer believe in all this acting.” In Germany, Mitra wants to raise public awareness for the scandalous situation, she has started giving lectures. Since the increase of censorship and the mass escape of journalists, only amateur pictures of the banned demonstrations in Iran are available. Mitra Khalatbari describes the situation of the courageous citizens in Iran: “After the elections all citizens have become journalists. Everyone has a camera, everyone is reporting, spreading news on the internet, on weblogs. The people try to compensate the loss and do the job of the journalists themselves.” Mitra wants to make those voices heard, at least in Germany, so the flow of information about the people’s uprising in her country will not be stopped.