translated by Hossein Shahidi
Friday, 26 February 2010
Mr Larijani! Prove that I was in prison for violence and destruction, and I will spend all my life in Evin Prison.
Mr Mohammad-Javad Larijani
Head of the Judiciary’s Human Rights Headquarters
I watched and read the CNN correspondent, Ms Christiane Amanpour’s interview with you. I read your comments on the imprisoned journalists many times and each time was surprised more than before. You may be completely unaware of the record of the imprisoned journalists. Or maybe you are aware but prefer to present the facts as you find it necessary.
In the interview, Mr Amanpour tells you that more than 90 journalists are in prison in Iran today, the highest number of imprisoned journalists in the world, and then asks you why this is happening. You say they have not be imprisoned because of protesting, but because of their violence and inflicting damage on people’s property.
‘Many journalists,’ Ms Amanpour asks you again, ‘have been imprisoned simply for having been present on the streets and sometimes only for coming out on the streets to watch what’s happening.’
This time you say, ‘No! No reporter or journalist has been imprisoned because of journalism. But if a journalist has been advocating violence, he has been prosecuted by the judiciary.’
I am writing to you to inform you where you can find out about the records of myself, my spouse and several other colleagues of mine. Please go to the Revolutionary Court’s Branch 26 on Shariati Avenue and also pay a visit to the same court’s Branch 15. You are the Head of the Judiciary’s Human Rights Headquarters and the respectable judges in those branches are sure to make our records available to you.
Please leaf through the record of my spouse, Bahman Ahmadi-Amouee. See if and when he ever destroyed public property. Also have a look at the record of Massoud Bastani in Branch 15. And don’t forget the records of Saied Laylaz and Ahmad Zeidabadi. Visit Evin Prison’s 3rd Interrogation Branch, too, and ask for the record of Shiva Nazar-Ahari. Which one of these has resorted to violence or destroyed public property? These are not the only journalists who have been imprisoned because of their professional activities.
If you have the time, take a look also at my record, for I was in prison for sixty days and now await my court appearance. I don’t know where my record is, but it should not be difficult to find it. If you find the slightest evidence that I have resorted to destruction or violence, or even advocated violence, I will voluntarily spend the rest of my life in Evin Prison.
One of the interrogators in charge of my file once spoke to me and condemned the destruction that had taken place on the streets. I said I too condemned the destruction, but asked the interrogator if he meant that I or my spouse were in prison because of involvement in destruction.
The interrogator who, unlike many other interrogators at Evin’s Ward 209 [where political prisoners are held], always had a cheerful and smiling face and, compared to some of his colleagues, was also fairly polite, laughed and said: ‘No, I didn’t mean that. You and your husband are not competent enough to set fire to anything or destroy it.’
‘Thank God,’ I said, ‘that we’re not competent to do such things.’
All the charges on Bahman Ahmadi-Amouee’s record have to do with his profession as a journalist. You have said that no journalist has been imprisoned because of attending a gathering. One of the most important charges against me and my spouse is that we attended a few gatherings, as reporters, carrying our professional IDs, and assignment letters from newspapers where we worked.
Now, Bahman has been sentenced to jail because of, in Ms Amanpour’s words, ‘watching the gatherings’. The other charge against my spouse is ‘conspiring against national security’, based on his editorship of a website, Khodrdad-e Now, which was shut down the days after the [June 2009 Presidential] election.
You see? Every page of his record has something to do with his profession as a journalist, with the work of an independent and critical journalist.
I do not know about judicial matters as much as you do, but I have learned enough to know that ‘conspiracy’ requires secret activities, and I cannot understand how one can engage in secret activities through journalism and publishing material on an internet site. Is there anything as public as journalism? How could open work in the media be construed as conspiracy and secret activity against national security?
Now, if you still have the time and patience, please leaf through my spouse’s record. Some ‘moral evidence’ of ‘conspiracy against national security’ had to be brought against him. Do you know what evidence has been cited to support that charge? His contribution to ‘extremist’ newspapers such as Nowrouz, Yas-e Now, and Khordad. Those were also journalistic activities; weren’t they? I cannot understand how contribution to newspapers that were published ten to twelve years ago, with the government’s permission, can be considered as criminal evidence against my spouse in 2009.
Please be patient and leaf through his record a little bit more. Another piece of ‘moral evidence’ presented to prove the charge of ‘conspiracy’ against Bahman Ahmadi-Amouee is that, ’In July 1999, he was briefly present at the Tehran University Dormitory [where there was a clash between security forces and protesting students], as a reporter and his reports were published in the newspaper where he worked at the time.’ Could this be taken as ‘moral evidence’ of ‘conspiracy against national security’ in June 2009?
There are also other charges against Bahman Ahmadi-Amouee: his critical articles about the Ninth Administration [led by Mr Ahmadinejad], written within the framework of the Constitution, have been described as ‘insults against the president’, leading to a sentence of imprisonment and lashing with a whip.
Mr Larijani! Around seventy journalists are now in the prisons of the Islamic Republic, and many others, like me, are free on bail, lacking any security. Afraid that anything that we write could be taken as evidence of propaganda against the system or conspiracy against national security, my colleagues and I try to write as little as possible.
To demonstrate the state of insecurity that we, journalists, are experiencing, suffice it to say that when I showed this open letter to several colleagues before publication, they all warned me against publishing it. ‘Because of this letter,’ they said, ‘you might end up in prison again. You might end up with a bigger record in court and a longer prison sentence.’
In spite of all that, Mr Larijani, I have decided to publish this letter, because I still hope that if my voice reaches you, you will pause for a moment, only for a moment, and acting as the Head of the Judiciary’s Human Rights Headquarters, try to restore the rights of my colleagues.
I still have a little hope left, the hope that you may be saddened by the fact we have broken the world record of jailing journalists, leaving behind China with a population of more than a billion.
I still believe that you may not know the truth of about the records of the imprisoned journalists.
*Jila Baniyaghoob won an IWMF Courage in Journalism Award in 2009