Friday, October 15, 2010

Freedom of Expression and Journalists' Situation in Iran, A Short Glance

Omid Habibinia’s speech in side session of the UN Human Rights High Council, 15th Sessions,September 28, 2010, Geneva

In Iran’s recent history, journalism and freedom of expression has always faced terror
During last year the Regime of Islamic Republic , has added the bloodiest page to its history of repressing journalism and freedom of expression. This can be compared to the Military coup that overthrow Mohammad Mosdegh’s democratically elected government, or the killing and repression of intellectuals and opponents in 80’s by both of the two wings in the Islamic Republic.

Since Iran’s last election “show”, many intellectuals, journalists, bloggers, human rights activists, political activists, women rights activists, religious minorities, ethnic minorities, and opposition groups were arrested, tortured, sexually abused, or vanished.

At least 150 people were killed in the streets during their peaceful demonstrations, some of them shoot dead by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards (IRG) or by the regime’s Intelligent Services’ snippers. The snipers aimed people’s hurt or head and killed them instantly.

Tens of thousands of people were forced to leave their homes, hide, or flee the country and leave their homes and belongings behind.

Tens of political prisoners were sentenced to death and many of them were executed. The Judiciary Brach of the Regime concentrated on implementing harsh laws, regulations, and punishments, in order to transmit fear among the journalists, and activists.

The intention of the Regime by creating another 80’s type social/political environment, was to unify the establishment to continue ruling. This only could be accomplished by repressing and killing people, opponents, and destroy the social movement that has been grown during last decade.

Here, my goal is to provide you a clear vision about the freedom of speech and journalism in Iran by looking at major points over the last year:

A. Freedom of Expression, General View

The Islamic Republic of Iran two years prior to the last election “show” of June 2009, was preparing itself to repress the people and their opponents
IRG and Basij (Militia Army) were preparing themselves by performing anti riot maneuvers which some were aimed at forcibly confronting protesters and armed insurrection
Long before the election “show”, coordination between the different Regime’s branches and organizations (intelligence, judicial, and propaganda) was planned to repress any opposition
Intelligence services of IRG, Police, as well as the Ministry of Intelligence, and National Security of the Islamic Republic of Iran (MISIRI) had a list of more than 4,000 names including political/social activists, active or passive opponents, and journalists whom were arrested by these intelligence services long before ending the election “show
Between June and September 2009, in Tehran alone, more than a thousand people were arrested, including journalists, bloggers, intellectuals, artists, students, female social and political activists as well as many others that were arrested in the street demonstration in spring and summer of the same year. Many of these people were in captivity without being charged or interviewed by the investigators for several months. People were only released after many of the families exhibited public pressure by means of large gatherings on the Judicial System. Few were released on excessive bail. Among these detainees, the ones that have had previous arrests or their names were on government’s black list due to affiliation with anti government, political or social activities, had a more dangerous situation in the prison system than others
Some of these detainees had a history of arrests and support of political opponents during the 80’s. Therefore; they were savagely tortured to illicit forced confessions against their beliefs and to accuse others (the students and the left political activists) of being atheists or being anti Islamic Regime. According to Judicial Law of Islamic Republic of Iran, both of these accusations carry a sentence of death
Some of the detainees were under a great deal of emotional and physical tortures, including rape and sexual abuse, while others that even did not vote in the last election were facing worse tortures
In several cases, spouse or significant other of the journalist and the activist were arrested and kept as a hostage to force the journalist or activist to surrender herself/himself. In several cases the hostage were kept after the arrest of the person and even were tortured to force to illicit yet another false confession
In several cases, the tortures were caused severe emotional and physical damages including paralysis, heart attach, traumatic stress disorders, and at least 15 reported deaths due to torture
In addition, there is no news of the fate of dozens of detainees that were arrested in the street protests or at their homes after the election show.
In addition to the death penalty for certain political and social activists including Kurdish teacher Farzad Kamangar, others that were arrested on Ashoora were charged with waging war against Allah and heresy
In the recent months, the detention of ethnic and religious minorities has intensified and dozens of Baha’i leaders, along with many of the Christians, Sunnis, or followers of other religious groups including Islamic Sufi (Daravish Gonabadi) were arrested in the company with other members of the left party. There is no information available about their whereabouts
While repressing the protest movement, the government simultaneously repressed the media by slowing down, and filtering the internet to stop people from accessing news and information about current events. Jamming of satellite transmission was also under taken
On one hand, Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRG), largely attached the internet websites, even oppositions’ e-mails and Facebook pages to disrupt journalists’ and activists’ efforts to communicate with people. On the other hand, IRG altered the protest movement and the news coverage (both locally and internationally) by publishing false news via the media against the movement.

B. Status of Journalists and Media:

From the early morning of election show in the past year until now, close to 200 Iranian journalists and several foreign journalists has been arrested
The names of several journalist has been black listed, only because they were doing their jobs under the control and supervision of the Iran's Islamic Regime
Now nearly 50 journalists are detained and well over a hundred has been temporarily out on bail (sometimes over half million euros) until their court date and sentencing

Most of these journalists were tortured and force to confess against themselves and others.

The Regime’s interrogators want the journalists to admit that they have received money from the intelligent services of countries like United Staes, United Kingdom, and Israel, to conspire to overthrow the Regime. Also to admit that they have had unlawful sexual relationship with others, especially with prominent opponents or some former reformers
Many of these detainees (journalists) like Ahmad Zeid-Abadi, Eisa Saharkhiz, Bahman Ahmadi Amooee, Emad-adin Baghi, Abolfazl Abedini, Masoud Bastani, Ahmadreza Tajik, and Hengameh Shahidi are living in very poor physical conditions and are at serious health risk. Any mention or objection to the torture results in an escalation in the level of violence by the interrogators. For instance, after the publicized sexual abuse of one of the journalists by the integrators, his sister and family were arrested, insulted, threatened, and tortured. He himself were subjected to more torture and pressure, including transfer to solitary confinement
Since last year, over fifty newspapers and magazines have been banned, dozens of internet websites have been filtered out, and hundreds of blogs have also been blocked
Now more than fifty Iranian journalists are hiding inside the country. Dozens of others are trying to flee the country due to the increase pressure, unemployment due to being placed on the black list.
Since 22 nd of Khordad, al least 150 Iranian journalists have fled Iran. Half of them still are living under threats from Iranian Intelligence service
Since last year, many filmmakers, documentary filmmakers, writers, artists, and intellectuals were arrested or have been banned from work. Many of these people have been banned from leaving the country
There is a list including more than 200 people that have been banned from working in the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB
Publications like music albums are facing broader restriction by implementing widespread censorship.

C. Current Outlook:

While in Iran the freedom of speech and press are seriously endangered by the Regime, outside of Iran the journalists and social/political activists are pressured or threatened secretly or openly by both Iranian parties (conservatives and reformists
Even abroad, freedom of speech for Iranian journalists is a challenge of staying independent, true to their professional values, and without benefit of associating with either parties’s media (reformists and conservative media
While many social and human rights activists like Shiva Nazarahari are facing unprecedented sentencing, other journalists are also facing planned and organized attacks from the Regime’s repression machine
As bad as the journalistic environment has been in Iran due to censorship in the Regime controlled media by both parties, It is now worse due to near extinction of true unbiased journalism in Iran. It is truly the darkest time of journalism in Iran. Almost everyday, there is news of new assets, tortures, and escapes of journalists
Today the question is not the obvious censorship that is being forcefully imposed to Iranian journalists. The question is to be or not to be, death or life.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Where is my Facebook?

After nearly four years, my facebook account was disabled without prior notice. Certain people blame it on the Iranian regime's agents, arguing that in recent weeks other political activists have had their facebook accounts disabled as well; however recently I received a message from dogmatic Mousavi supporter who happily announced that my account was disabled after they reported it to the site’s administration.

As a result, I have lost all my contacts, notes, photos, videos, groups as well as audio files, all of which were posted on an account which had become a source of news and analysis for many Iranian activists as well as international journalists. As a journalist, losing contact with my nearly 3000 friends, most of whom fellow journalists, bloggers and activists, is a real disaster and has greatly affected my professional work especially in regards to my Iranian friends as I was depending on my facebook account as a means of communicating with activists and colleagues inside Iran.

A while ago, following a series of articles and interviews in which I had talked about Mousavi’s background, Ebrahim Nabavi (an Iranian journalist working for the Jaras website whose approach to reformist ideas is questioned by many because he favors a change within the framework of the current Iranian regime), wrote a note about me. In his note he defamed me and falsely claimed he ever knew me from Iran. From then onwards, I became the target of threats and other tactics by a group of dogmatic Mousavi supporters. I call them Sabzollahis because their tactics and use of language is reminiscent of Hezbollahis in Iran. I answered to Nabivi’s note in a note in which I had tagged 20 journalists who were common friends and were mostly shocked about Nabavi’s lies. Subsequently, Nabavi wrote to me and suggested that we refrain from further arguments. This was viewed by many of our mutual friends as an indirect apology; ironically his supporters became angrier, and one of his fans, who does not use his or her real name on facebook, (...Irani) called on others on Nabavi's wall to give a strong answer to me.

On May 19, in the middle of the night, I was unexpectedly logged off my facebook account by system. I logged backed in and changed my password. A few hours later, when I tried to log in to my page, I got a message informing me that my account had been disabled.

This is a tactic often used by Sabzollahis (fanatic Mousavi supporters) as well as Hezbollahis (government supporters); using proxies or other similar software to hide their IP addresses, they mass report a facebook or Youtube account, under several fake IDs. Unfortunately, since Facebook and Youtbe do not have Persian speaking experts to check the content of reports, the mere number of reports convinces them of the seriousness of the matter, leading to many accounts being unjustly removed or disabled.

Account Disabled

Your account has been disabled. If you have any questions or concerns, you can visit our FAQ page here.

There have been other cases where an article written by Nabavi has led to open threats by his fans against opposition (the article acctulay wrote against me), websites or individuals. One example was when a group of Iranians protesters removed the Islamic republic’s flag at its embassy in The Hague replacing it with a flag with a picture of Neda Agha Soltan on it. I reported the news on the Freedom of Expression website. Nabavi wrote an insulting article on the Jaras website, called opposition "belie", mentioning me, insulting and condemning the protesters. The article sparked a strong reaction among the Iranians and as many as 1000 joined a facebook page condemning Nabavi’s article. The facebook page then came under threat by Sabzollahis and a few of the pages administrators had their accounts reported and disabled.

I have written to facebook on several occasions explaining that disabling my account is a clear violation of freedom of expression. I have received to replies to my letters, both of which in form of prewritten forms citing violation of the site’s rules as the reason for my account being permanently closed.

I strongly believe that such actions by Sabzollahis are no different than Hizbollahis in Iran. Many of my colleagues in Iran are in jail, in hiding or simply afraid to add me again to the list of their friends. I am truly disappointed that as a result of the closure of my account I have lost contact with my friends as well as the links that had been accumulated on the account before it was disabled.

In the past I had repeatedly been the target of regime’s agents and hackers who had tried everything ranging from making an account with my name to hacking into my emails. The fact that I have now become the target of similar tactics by the other wing of the regime (reformists), is clear proof that they are no different than their rivals when dealing with their critics. I am also sure that with or without facebook, my fight for freedom of expression in Iran will continue.

Wanna Help?
Sign this Petition: We Want Omid Habibinia's Facebook to Be Reactivated!
Send an Appeal to Facebook,
My Appeal to Facebook:
from Omid Habibinia


date Mon, Jun 28, 2010 at 4:05 PM

subject MY ACCOUNT

Dear Madam / Sir,

On May 19, 2010, I was logged in and using Facebook when suddenly I got logged off by the system. I was cautious of hackers and spies so I immediately changed my password and then I logged back in. A few hours later, I was not able to log in anymore. Then I tried to get help from Facebook after about 10 days, I received a message from Facebook informing me that my account has been disabled for violating website regulations. I find this action strange and unacceptable. I am a journalist with 20 years of experience. For most of my life I have been fighting for freedom of expression in Iran. I have committed no offense, unless it is considered an offense to express my political opinion or defend myself against aspersions.

The issue here is that some individuals who are supporters of the Islamic Republic regime, even if indirectly, are upset with my writing pieces. Unfortunately, this is not the first time that my Facebook profile content has alerted supporters of the regime. On February 2009, a regime agent created a fake account using my name and proceeded to add my friends, and when they accepted, he asked them strange questions. I reported the matter to Facebook and the account was deactivated.

In this case, I attempted to contact Facebook but received no response. Then my friends informed me that somebody on a another Iranian journalist who supportes a wing inside of regime, had requested on his Facebook wall for his fans to "report" my Facebook account. The mentioned journalist also wrote a Facebook note about me and spread many lies. I had no way to respond to the note but get disabled!

It is reported that a significant number of Facebook accounts belonging to other political activists and bloggers have also been disabled in the past few weeks. Accounts are disabled because 20 to 30 users at one time misuse the "report" option. At times, these same people make open threats in order to silence us.

I had 3,000 friends on my 4 year old Facebook. Most of them were colleagues. I had many notes, groups, photos, video clips, and used several applications. Facebook for me as a journalist was an invaluable online outlet. I used Facebook to spread news from inside Iran and to communicate with activists, bloggers, and journalists. My account was four years old. I am requesting from you to return my account to me so I can continue with my daily tasks on Facebook.

I strongly believe that Facebook should take responsibility for this unjust action to avoid falling into the trap of supporting members and supporters of the Islamic Republic of Iran; a regime that has clearly demonstrated, especially in the past year, that it will suppress any voice that challenges. I also recommend that , use a Persian speaker expert and investigate the misuse of the "report" option, a tactic used against freedom of expression and journalists simply for doing their job.

I look forward to hear from you