Friday, December 4, 2009

The Iranian Regime's Opposition Remains Defiant

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Iran stifles dissent by jailing reform-minded politicians, intellectuals and journalists, but opposition websites and individuals do a good job of keeping the world informed. It's not easy getting a clear picture of what's happening in Iran these days: correspondents from western news organisations have not been granted visas since June's disputed presidential elections; the few accredited foreign journalists still in Tehran face severe restrictions; and international attention focuses mostly on the nuclear issue, with occasional diversions like the saga of the young British yachtsmen who strayed into Iranian waters. Yet there's no shortage of information from individual Iranians who manage to keep in touch with the wider world, by phone, email and social networking sites. Opposition websites such as Mowjcamp and Tehran Bureau do a good job of reporting and aggregating news. It's mostly bad and adds up to a big picture of continuing repression of activists associated with the opposition, still striving to keep up the protests that began when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claimed victory over Mir Hossein Mousavi. National University Students Day next Monday looks likely to be marked by more rallies on campuses. The defiant mood is caught by a powerful new song by classical artistes Shajarian and Parisa demanding "justice for injustice".

It struck me this week that nearly every reformist-minded politician, intellectual or journalist I met in Iran during three visits over the last year has been arrested and tried since the crackdown began. The latest is Saeed Leylaz, a gadfly editor and economist who predicted on the eve of the poll that Ahmadinejad would rig the vote if he felt it necessary. On Wednesday Leylaz was given nine years in prison on charges of "propaganda against the system, keeping classified documents and links to foreign elements". According to his lawyer, a parliamentary report on the judiciary found in Leylaz's home was treated as a "classified document". Ahmad Zeidabadi, another well-known journalist who regularly contributed to BBC Persian ‑ a particular bete noire of the regime ‑ was sentenced to six years in prison, five years of exile and lifetime exclusion from political activity. Bijan Khajehpour, a highly regarded consultant, spent three months in Tehran's notorious Evin prison just for having suggested that Ahmadinejad might lose. Earlier this month it was the turn of the cleric Mohammad Ali Abtahi, former vice-president under the reformist president Mohammad Khatami and the most senior former official to be arrested. Abtahi was rotund and jovial when I met him but looked gaunt in grey prison uniform and sounded drugged in TV pictures broadcast from his trial. He got six years in prison and was released on bail of more than £400,000 pending appeal. (Read more...)