Monday, January 24, 2005
About 20 online Iranian journalists and bloggers have just been jailed. Some say they were tortured and forced to publicly denounce their work.
TEHRAN — The criminal seems younger than his 25 years. He is the quiet type, shy and lanky, peering solemnly through octagonal glasses. He has no weapons, not in the traditional sense.Torture, suppression and jail. I don't imagine anyone at Indymedia is paying attention though. I mean, the US is trying to stop these people from getting the bomb. The bastards! Worse, journalists in Israel are being stopped at checkpoints! Oh the abuse...
His name is Hanif Mazroui, and the tools of his crime are a handful of ideas and skinny fingers flying over the keyboard. He is one of about 20 Iranian Web loggers and journalists who have been arrested and jailed in recent months.
Government prosecutors call Mazroui a violator of national security and an inciter of unrest. If you ask the nation's conservative mullahs, he's an acid eating away at the fabric of the Islamic revolution. He has done time in solitary confinement, and reportedly weathered death threats from judiciary officials.
"I just want to remember where I was," he said. "I'm grateful for my time in prison, because I realized how much we should pay for freedom, and that freedom can't be got easily. I'm a small drop of that."
After toiling for years to silence dissent within the Iranian republic, the mullahs have turned their war against free press to the last reserve of open political debate: the Internet. Since the summer, Iran's Web loggers, or bloggers, and online journalists have been demonized as CIA collaborators, their work whitewashed from many Iranian computers with filters.
"They can't accept the free exchange of ideas and equality offered by the Internet," said Sayed Mustafa Taj-Zadeh, an advisor to reformist President Mohammad Khatami. "They had to crack down on it."
The arrest of online journalists and bloggers began last fall. The writers say they were tortured and forced to publicly denounce their work. Even technicians who worked on Web pages have been imprisoned. President Khatami has ordered an investigation into the reports of torture.
"They think that now that they've closed the papers they should concentrate on the Web logs," said Ali Mazroui, Hanif's father and a former reformist lawmaker. "They think if they close this new source of information, they'll have control."
When the government sent him a written order to turn over his son Hanif, Ali Mazroui didn't have much choice. He escorted the young man to the police station. That was Sept. 8. Ali Mazroui didn't see his son again for two months.
Called before a presidential commission in December, Hanif Mazroui was among a handful of journalists and bloggers who told of the torture they'd suffered behind bars. They had been beaten, left in solitary confinement and forced to make false confessions, they said. They'd been grilled about their past sexual relationships, they said, and denied access to lawyers.
Details of the testimony were displayed on http://www.webneveshteha.com , the Web log of former Iranian Vice President Mohammed Ali Abtahi. A reformist cleric who has become a pop culture icon by virtue of his whimsical, almost picaresque daily blog, Abtahi sat on the commission, and later recounted the indignities the ex-inmates described.
"I don't ever want to go back to a place like that," he said. "No matter what your mentality, no matter who you are, it will break you."
He described being held in an underground cell no larger than a coffin, a claustrophobic place burned around the clock by an overhead light. He lost track of days under the unblinking light, and slowly came to believe that he would be forgotten there, he said, trapped eternally. "It felt like a grave," he said. "I thought I would be there forever."
The writer described something he said interrogators called the "miracle room" — an interrogation cell where his captors terrorized him, bragging of the reformist politicians and journalists they'd broken down through psychological torment. He began to dream of killing himself, and plotted how it could be done.
He couldn't sleep, not even after he was released. He'd lain awake weeping in bed until 4 o'clock in the morning the night before the interview, he said. For the first time in his life, he added sadly, he was beginning to understand why Iranians give up and leave their country.
"We were the children of the revolution," he said. "We weren't asking for radical change. We wanted to work within the system."
Stifling of freedom of speech and human-rights abuse are two areas you would think Indy Media contributors took seriously. Alas, they usually have better things to do.