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Paayandeh Iran
We believe in a democratic republic

March 28, 2002
The Iranian

A film by a British theatre group was shown last month at a community college in a suburb of Washington, D.C., about Ahmad Batebi's ordeal in prison. Batebi, a student protester during the July 1999 student uprising, was on the cover of The Economist holding a bloody shirt. He has been severely tortured and sentenced to 13 years in prison.

It was at the showing of this film that Roozbeh Farahanipour, a journalist and one of the organizers of the 5-day student uprising in Iran was present. He spoke about his journey in prison, his tortures and the struggle against the clerical regime.

Like many of the young men and women from Iran, Farahanipour, 30, is intelligent and down to earth. He was one of the founders of a group called "Marz-e-Porgohar" (MPG) , a secular group formed mainly by university students in 1998 .

I asked for an interview, which he most graciously accepted. Excerpts:

At first we had formed an Iranian studies foundation called Mehr-e-Iran . I was attending law school at the Azad University in Tehran . In 1993, I became interested in journalism and put out a journal called Vahouman (Good thoughts). We were a group of nationalist youngsters who interested in the study of Iran's pre-Islamic history. I became its editor.

We had contacts with other independent journalists, who helped us publish our journals, magazines and newspapers under their general publication licenses until the authorities forced their closure.

Following the 1999 student uprising, parliament passed new laws banning any publication other than those specifically sanctioned, holding the licensee, editors, writers and even typists directly responsible for any unauthorized article or publication .

The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance repeatedly refused to issue us permits either to publish or legally establish a National Society of Journalists because we were independent of the only two unions officially recognized, the Islamic Society of Journalists and the Professional Society of Journalists belonging to hardliners and the Islamic reformist factions.

A few weeks before the July 1999 uprising, we received a call from from Khatami's office, who offered funds and facilities for Marz-e-Porgohar (MPG) as well as permits from the Ministry of Interior, if we agreed to submit the names of all our members, addresses of our branches all over the country, and to pledge to operate within the Islamic Constitution and Islamic laws, accept to act according to the absolute authority of the Supreme Leader and etc. Of course we refused.

I remember early in July of 1999, I handed a letter addressed to Attaollah Mohajerani, the pro-Khatami Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance, together with my journalist identification card and my pen writing: "Know this, that the way to promote the glory of Iran is not to write in publications of the Islamic Republic. I submit my pen to you as I no longer wish to be a writer..."

I had given up on journalism and now I had become an activist. On the 14th of July 1999, during a meeting held at my home which doubled as the MPG party headquarters, we were attacked by over 30 security agents of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards.

Thirteen MPG members were arrested following a barrage of automatic fire through the windows and an almost simultaneous storming of the guards who charged through the door. One of the attackers violently kicked a woman member of the MPG who was not wearing the Islamic veil (hijab) .

They didn't have enough handcuffs so they bound us with telephone cables. They took everything, papers, documents and even personal belongings, loading them onto three small trucks with the help of the badly beaten Afghan diplomats who were also attending our meeting and were later detained and tortured.

They took me to the infamous Towhid Prison, on Sepah Street. (Towhid was built during the reign of Reza Shah. It was initially a women's prison. During the reign of Mohammad Reza Shah, it was the anti-terrorism center -- Komiteh Moshtarak Zed-e-Kharaabkaari -- used for SAVAK interrogation.) During the Islamic regime, countless political prisoners have set foot in this prison where many were tortured and executed. The prison was closed temporarily following MPG disclosures abroad but has reopened.

For over one month I was kept in solitary confinement and blindfolded most of the time. I was on the 3rd floor in cell number 607. They would take us to the special chamber behind the "Otaagh-e Patoo" (blanket room). That's where they kept the prison blankets. Everyone would tremble with fear at the mention of the blanket room. Tortures would be conducted there.

I remember when they took me there once, blindfolded, looking down on the ground, I saw from the corner of my eye a man coming with his clerical garb (abaa and tasbih) . I could tell he was a molla, a clergyman. He asked my name. The interrogators mentioned my name, adding that I had my own group. He then said, "So this is the famous Farahanipour? Why is he still walking?" I found out later that the molla was Ayatollah Younesi, the head of the Intelligence Ministry.

Finally after a few months, when no one could bail me out, a worker whom I barely knew, put his house up as collateral and bailed me out. I am forever grateful to him. But while in prison, in order to break your spirit, they show you other prisoners being tortured.

I could never forget one of these sessions. The nightmare has always stayed with me and still torments me. I went to the "Chamber". There they had Mrs Jeilani (a member of Iran's Nation Party led by the late Dariush Forouhar) in a sack, bound from each side to the bed, beating her continuously. I could hear her familiar voice, her shrieks and cries of pain.

It was then that I lost it. I could not bear to see this cruel and violent beating of a woman. Every time, they took a prisoner, the rest of us would sing the Iranian National Anthem "Ey Iran" to give them, as well as ourselves, a moral uplift.

Many days after my arrest they showed me my warrant. I saw that it was from the High Council of National Security. It bore the president's signature. Yes, the signature of President Khatami, the head of the council.

Always liked politics

I was only seven-years old when during the revolution two of my family members took me along to help make Molotov cocktails . The Muslim revolutionaries refused our help because we took beer bottles and were considered unclean!

I always liked to discuss politics. Ever since childhood, my grandmother, Irandokht, used to tell us about the Mossadegh era. She had still kept an original copy of national bonds (Gharzeh Melli) issued by Mossadegh's government. She used to talk about him and how women would take their jewelry and gold to buy these bonds to help the government.

In 1979 while I was in the second grade, I got involved in my first political act. We objected to the dismissal ("paaksaazi" or "cleansing") of a popular children's TV host, Mrs. Boroumand, who had refused to wear the Islamic veil on television. I led my classmates to the yard and staged a protest, chanting "We want Mrs. Boroumand now (yaallaa)". I also received my first beating from the school headmaster, who used a thick, wooden ruler. I was also involved in leading similar protests against the school for firing our own teacher in fourth grade.

My first summons was served to me in eighth grade because of a composition I wrote, protesting the continuation of the war, during the "War of the Cities" when Iran and Iraq were attacking each other's cities with bombs and scud missiles.

On Khatami and the moderates

The so-called left or the moderates of the regime -- from the Jebheh Moshaarakat Iran Eslami (Islamic Iran's Participation Front) to the Majma'a-e-Rouhaanioun-e-Mobaarez (Society of Militant Clergy), with Khatami belonging to their central committees -- are only different from the so-called hadliners mainly in their outlook towards the economy.

In the former reformist group, most members are founders of the Islamic Republic, who believe in a sort of economy where the state is in control. This outlook sets the "reformist" faction, itself a coalition of various smaller factions, against the private monopolist factions (headed by Rafsanjani), the traditional bazaari merchants (represented by ultra rightist Assgar Owladi Mossalman) and various fundamentalist militia and revolutionary guard factions. The real fight is over power and the economy.

Outlook for Marze Porgohar Party

Our main motto is that this regime cannot be reformed. We believe like the rest of our nation that politics and religion cannot be bedfellows. The separation of religion from the government is a basis of our ideal form of government. Khatami supporters believe in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic that is based upon the supremacy of Islamic laws and the absolute control and oversight of the Supreme religious leader.

We believe in a democratic republic. We believe in a system where principals are embodied within the law and individual freedoms and individual and minority rights remain protected within democratic majority rule. We want to spread our national heritage and Iranian culture. We want to create a society where all individuals regardless of ethnicity, religious background and gender can enjoy equality under the law. We believe in a parliamentary system where all parties can function.

However we believe any political party with a program for destroying the democratic system, and basic human rights principals, must be excluded from participating in all levels of governmental elections, even though the freedom of speech will be protected.

We believe in minimizing the role of the government, except in military, foreign policy, security and strategic economic and welfare matters. We believe in the participation of the people not only in representative affairs of the government but also in their own professional and social interests in the form of unlimited organizational matters within the society.

Our foreign policy must be based on complete sovereignty and total respect of other nations who respect our national borders and accept our self-determination. We believe in friendly and constructive relations with all nations and governments who can benefit Iranian national interest, and in particular we favor regional economic, political, strategic and cultural alliances with countries that share our ancient Iranian and Persian history, culture and values.

We believe in a strong Iran, capable of safeguarding our territorial integrity, strategic security and economic lifelines. We believe that the private sector, in all viable industries and services, including tourism, light and heavy industry, information, modern and high technologies and countless other fields should become the backbone of the country's source of income while income from major natural resources such as oil should fund education, infra-structure projects, health, housing, and welfare as well as finance promising private sector endeavors.

We believe the future Iran should be open to all foreign investments capable of benefiting Iran and Iranian citizens and in particular the most advanced international technologies, services and expertise should be encouraged to participate. Iran should encourage the widest possible acquisition of science and technology from all over the world.

We also favor Iranian participation in all profitable international investments which will not be contrary to the national and strategic interests.

On Reza Pahlavi

We are for a republican system. The expectations of the Iranian people and particularly the youth is extended far beyond the old constitution as well as the current one. Iranian society and the whole world have evolved dramatically in the past 23 years. Millions of experienced and educated Iranians within and without the country expect a much more tolerant society and a more liberal system of power sharing than the old constitutional monarchy or the present Islamic state.

We cannot accept Mr. Pahlavi as a "catalyst" either. He can lead his own followers, but he cannot claim to be the leader of the whole opposition. He must also clarify his position regarding his title as a king, so that all Iranians can decide how to deal with him.

To depend on the will of the people is at the core of our belief. I have come from a wounded nation. Reza Pahlavi has a duty to speak of the past, of the misconduct and corruption of the royal family and disassociate himself from past mistakes.

I believe in the saying, "Gozashteh cheraaghe raahe aayandeh Ast": the past is the guiding light of the future.

On granting amnesty to IRI officials

Regarding all IRI officials and collaborators, including those who spent time in prison and the so-called left or reformist camp, we must point out to the fact that those who have been directly responsible for crimes against the people, those who have been involved in executions, torture, kidnapping and other crimes, must take responsibility for their actions and answer in a court of law.

At this time it is expected from those who claim they are on the people's side, at least to apologize for their past crimes and disassociate themselves from past and hand over criminal leaders; otherwise their claims cannot be taken seriously.

I am talking about individuals such as Jalaiipour, Sazegara, Ganji, Abdollah Nouri, Mehdi Karoubi, Hadi Khamenei, Ebrahim Nabavi, and others. Abdollah Nouri, for example who is regarded as one of the reformists, and used to be the editor of the reformist daily Khordad, had actually attempted to rape one of our female members when she was working at the paper. The next day, she was expelled from her job.

Nouri, as Interior Minister, and Khomeini's handpicked representative inside the Expediency Council and the head of the High Council of Security of Tehran Province, must have been aware and involved in the mass murder of political prisoners in Evin and elsewhere in1988. Every week, this same Nouri was allowed to leave the prison to attend the bimonthly meetings of the Expediency Council.

Mr. Khatami paid a visit to his home when his mother died, while Nouri himself was allowed to leave jail and freely return to his house for mourning rituals. Many such so called prisoners have access to mobile phones, fax machines and internet in jail. Surely their imprisonment is not serious.

Akbar Ganji, another reformist, had full knowledge of tortures. As an intelligence officer he had access to many files on the opposition figures. He has access to a cell phone to call from prison! A world reknowned artist named Davood Roostai who is currently in L.A. was tortured at the hands of the same Ganji.

Amazon Honor SystemIn comparison, other genuine political opponents who are under extreme harsh conditions in prison, have no right to voice their grievances and do not have access to any international observers who may visit the prisons and or the due process of law.

My humble opinion after self-exile abroad, is that the intellectuals residing outside Iran and other compatriots can be instrumental in offering a political and ideological blueprint. Those inside will have to lead and execute the plans.

In order to reach our goals and implement democracy in our homeland, there are only three solutions: Organization, organization, organization.

As usual in this interview and at the end of every conversation, Roozbeh finished by saying Payandeh Iran.

Comment for The Iranian letters section
Comment for the writer Fariba Amini

By Fariba Amini

Amini's features index


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By Fariba Amini

Attack from within
Dissident political theology in contemporary Iran
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Varieties of religious reform in Iran
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Republic bee republic
I detest all republicans: communistis, socialists and democrats
By Amir

Don't get left behind
The reform process is already happening
By By John Mohammad

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