Washington, D.C. – February 19, 2008 . . . Major stories this week included the 29th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran (including interviews with Grand Ayatollah Hossain Ali Montazeri in Qom, the most politically influential and well-respected dissident cleric in Iran; with Ayatollah Montazeri, the designated successor of Ayatollah Khomeini; with former President Abol Hassan Bani Sadr; with Babak Amir-Khosravi of the Tudeh; with Empress Farah Pahlavi; with political analyst Mohsen Sazgara, a student during the Revolution, who was close to Khomeini, and one of the founders of the Revolutionary Guards; with Khosrow Akmal, former ambassador and chief of protocol in the former regime; with journalist Dariush Homayoun, former Information Minister under the Shah; and with Hedayatollah Matin-Daftari, grandson of former Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh; with Shaheen Fatemi, Professor of Economics and Dean of Graduate Studies at the American University of Paris, on the Islamic Revolution’s impact on the Iranian economy; with Hossein Faraji, a journalist who was a German Radio reporter at the time of the Islamic Revolution, about Islamic revolutionaries and their whereabouts today; with human rights activist Parviz Dastmalchi about the nature of laws in the Islamic Republic; with historian Majid Tafrashi on the roots of the Iranian Revolution); an exclusive interview with Ali Eshraghi, the grandson of Ayatollah Khomeini, on being banned from participating in next month’s parliamentary elections in Iran; interviews with journalist Mashallah Shamsolvaezin and human rights activist Narges Mohammadi on the elections; with State Department Middle East spokesman David Foley breaking the news on PNN that the next round of US-Iran talks on Iraq have been postponed because of the killing of Hezbollah militant Imad Mughniyeh; with political analyst Mehrdad Khansari about a meeting in Paris of the Financial Action Task Force; parliamentary elections in Pakistan; and the ongoing presidential primaries in the US.
VOA/PNN produced a special program to commemorate the 29th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, beginning with a video chronology: people chanting, street demonstrations, the Shah’s last day in Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini at the airport in Tehran and his speech at Behesht Zahra cemetery on February 1, 1979. Anchor Setareh Derakhshesh followed this by setting the course for the program: “During the revolution, all political groups - from left to right - supported Ayatollah Khomeini. Not long after the revolution, however, the same political groups broke away and began opposing him. What were the goals of the revolution and were they met? Did the revolution change course? What were the reasons for that change? Where do things stand now? Many of those who participated in the revolution are dead or have been driven out. The young generation does not remember the revolution. By talking to major players at the time and those who were close to the Ayatollah – from left to right to religious, those who had a significant role before and after the revolution – we will try to focus on the causes and consequences of that event.” The remainder of the program consisted of in-studio discussion and exclusive interviews recently taped by the anchor in Paris.
Grand Ayatollah Hossain Ali Montazeri in Qom, the most politically influential and well-respected dissident cleric in Iran, mainly among reformists, was one of those interviewed. Ayatollah Montazeri, who rarely gives interviews, responded to Ms. Derakhshesh’s questions in writing. He was one of the leaders of the Islamic Republic and the designated successor to Ayatollah Khomeini; he also was head of the Majlis Khobregan. He fell out with Khomeini in 1989 over government policies and was under house arrest for over 17 years. Ms. Derakhshesh also interviewed Empress Shahbanoo Farah Pahlavi, widow of the Shah; Abol Hassan Bani Sadr, Iran’s first president following the revolution and the abolition of the monarchy; Babak Amir Khosravi, leader of the Tudeh (Communist) Party of Iran. He was present at Neauphle-le-Chateau during the preparation of the draft of the Islamic Republic’s Constitution. A close ally of Khomeini at the beginning of the revolution, he obtained the support of several left groups for the Ayatollah. Ms. Derakhshesh also interviewed Hedayat Matin Daftari, a legal scholar who left the nationalist movement and joined the Mujahedin in exile. He is the grandson of Mohammad Mossadegh and was head of the Lawyers’ Guild in Iran. She also spoke with Jacques Hubert Rodier, currently an editorialist at Les Echos, France’s largest financial newspaper. He was in Iran before and after the revolution, and is the paper’s specialist on Iran and the Middle East.
Ayatollah Montazeri, the designated successor of Ayatollah Khomeini, the number two person in Iran and head of the Khobregan said the revolution has given Islam a bad name. “No individual whose rights have been violated should remain silent,” he said. “We cannot criticize the people for speaking out. Those who remained silent are as responsible for the atrocities and have to answer for it. Unfortunately, it is only by name that the revolution remains Islamic. Its content has changed, and what is taking place in the name of Islam gives a bad image of the religion. This is the religion of kindness and tolerance. By writing to the Ayatollah and by speaking to him about these matters, I believe I fulfilled my duties to a certain degree.” Ayatollah Montazeri said the situation in Iran is not suitable for the Iranian people. “People who paid a lot to bring about change and who asked for democracy and freedom to be enshrined in our Constitution have been shortchanged and are being treated unkindly by the authorities. The existence of political prisoners for reasons that are concocted, the banning of newspapers and magazines are just a few examples of what is going on.” Ayatollah Montazeri lamented the broad disqualification of parliamentary candidates: “This is solely based on political vengeance and malice without consideration for the law and our national interests. Most importantly, accusing well-known religious politicians of being against Islam is unforgivable. Such policies will have ramifications for all of us. I would hope that those in charge would do away with selfishness and think of the people’s interests and cease this inadmissible behavior. I remind those responsible that if the current situation continues, it will weaken Iran at all levels, foreign and domestic.” On relations with the United States, Ayatollah Montazeri said Iran can defend the rights of its people and the country and still come to the table and negotiate: “Ayatollah Khomeini once called the US the great Satan, but it is clear that this was a temporary ruling and would change depending on the circumstances. Experts in foreign policy in our country, who are neutral, should evaluate whether it is in our interest. If past relations were to determine whether we should establish relations with a country or not, Britain and Russia have caused more damage to Iran than the US.”
Former President Abol Hassan Bani Sadr said it was “a mistake with irreparable damages” not to have gotten to know Ayatollah Khomeini before he arrived in Iran. “We did not expect him to turn against his own promises in Paris. He made promises in Paris and did the exact opposite after his arrival to Iran. It started by forcing women to wear the hejab. In Qom, I reminded Khomeini of the promises he had made in Paris – that women would be free to choose what to wear. Khomeini responded that he will say something today and he will change his position the next day, if necessary. That is when I realized what he was made of and that he had no convictions whatsoever. He is directly responsible for the violence that followed. The violence that we see today (in Muslim countries) comes from him. He not only promoted violence but he was the first to sanctify it in Islam. Islam does not preach violence.” Mr. Bani Sadr said intellectuals who claimed they were duped by the Ayatollah are lying. “They could not have been fooled. What they were after was power. Who founded the pillars of dictatorship after the revolution? Such as the Revolutionary Guards? The Revolutionary Courts? Ebrahim Yazdi says he founded them. They founded these infrastructures of dictatorship and handed them over to the Mullahs to butcher the people, something that is still going on. Who monopolized the media for the mullahs? Who started violence in Kurdistan, in Gonbad, in Khuzistan, in Azerbaijan and in Tehran? The answer is that intellectuals established the infrastructure and gave it to the mullahs.” President Bani Sadr said even with its flaws, the government at the beginning of the revolution respected the laws of Iran and the Iranian people. “We had rules and regulations. Today there is chaos in Iran and we are known as terrorists in the world. This cannot be called a government. One day the president says I am adding two zeros to the currency, the next day he says I am cutting interest rates. How can a country function like this? How can it have a place in the world? In the old days, there were groups of thugs that would pillage and do what they wanted. A low level mullah would then clear the way for them by blessing what they did. The same process is happening today. This Shorayeh Negahban is a way of validating the pillage that is going on by mullahs.” President Bani Sadr said foreign powers should not threaten Iran. “They should support the people, paving the way for them to get rid of this regime. When Iranians feel threatened from the outside, the society closes itself from within. When they have the support of the international community, they open up.”
Babak Amir-Khosravi of the Tudeh Party said overthrowing the monarchy was pre-eminent in everyone’s thinking, to the exclusion of anything else. “Everyone, including the left, cooperated with Khomeini. No one thought of the replacement. No one thought of what was going to happen after the Shah. We all joined [the revolution] – not only the left, but all other groups. When the left saw the oppression that was going on, it broke away from Khomeini.”
Empress Farah Pahlavi said people in Iran do not realize all the advances made under her husband’s rule. “Maybe the establishment did not do a good job of connecting with the people and did not have good PR. Some countries also began looking at Iran in a negative way. At the same time, the international media stated portraying Iran in an extremely negative way. They became more Catholic than the Pope. Women, unfortunately, forgot what they had accomplished under Reza Shah and the late Shah. The population was attracted to the slogans and promises of Khomeini and everyone thought that if the Shah left, they would have freedom and a better life.” Empress Pahlavi said her husband left the country in a bid to avert bloodshed, but reached out to a lot of opposition leaders before leaving, to warn them that the path they were taking would not lead to what they were hoping for. “But no one listened,” she said. “Women are under constant repression. During the Shah’s time, women gained many rights and they could be what they wanted. Today they are being jailed, stoned to death. They commit suicide. There is prostitution. They are being sold to the Emirates. They are being humiliated and insulted. I see a bright future for Iran, but what is important is ethics. People, groups and political parties have to be truthful. If you want change, just say so. Say what system you want. Do not lie and chant for freedom and then go in the opposition direction.”
Others who appeared on the PNN anniversary special were: political analyst Mohsen Sazgara, a student during the Revolution, who was close to Khomeini, and one of the founders of the Revolutionary Guards; Khosrow Akmal, former ambassador and chief of protocol in the former regime; journalist Dariush Homayoun (via Switzerland), former Information Minister under the Shah; and Hedayatollah Matin-Daftari (via London), grandson of former Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh.
Mohsen Sazgara – a student leader during the Revolution and a founder of the Revolutionary Guards – said, “We have seen that violence didn’t get us anywhere in Iran. It is through civil disobedience [that we will effect change]. We must pressure authorities for a referendum to change the constitution and subsequently the system. And this will require a lot of pressure from the people.” Mr. Sazgara said people wanted an independent and national government in Iran, and that the Revolution’s slogan was Neither West nor East. “To me, ‘freedom’ was not defined. It was unclear what people gained from revolution. They wanted modernity and freedom which never took place. Many were jailed and executed or were driven out. When there is struggle for power, elimination and jailings occur. With the current constitution of the Islamic Republic, achieving democracy and freedom is impossible. The solution for getting rid of this regime is organizing and re-grouping, and with the immense power of international pressure on our side, we have to force the regime to submit to a national referendum.”
Khosrow Akmal, former ambassador and chief of protocol in the former regime, said it was a big mistake for the army to have announced its neutrality. “In the event the army had performed its duties, we would not be here where we are today. The army’s neutrality allowed the revolution to take place, and as far as changes to, it wasn’t evident at the beginning, but eventually, we could see the direction the revolution was going.”
Journalist Dariush Homayoun said that since 1960, clear thinking has been the trend of reactionaries and dictatorship. “Free thinking has been the trend for self, and depriving rights for others. The main problem for Iranians has been the problem of clear thinking. This problem and others have been solved the Islamic regime. Now we know that religion and state must be separated. We know now that what we are going through is the result of Islamic rule. Prior to the Islamic revolution, because people were very enthused for revolution, all warnings fell on deaf ears. But eventually, after the revolution, people realized the nature of the regime.”
Hedayatollah Matin-Daftari, the grandson of former Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh, said the Iranian people’s rights were being violated under the Shah. “The people had no will to participate in elections since everything was pre-decided. Eighteen months prior to the revolution, some 56-57 individuals sent an open letter to the Shah with demands. If they had been met by the government, we would not be where we are today.”
Roundtable with You February 15 talked with Shaheen Fatemi, Professor of Economics and Dean of Graduate Studies at the American University of Paris, on the Islamic Revolution’s impact on the Iranian economy. Mr. Fatemi said Iran is rich in energy and has 10% of the world's crude oil reserves. In terms of natural gas, Iran is second only to Russia and enjoys a large and substantially young population. Mr. Fatemi said Iran’s economy relies heavily on oil export revenues, with about 80-90 % of total export earnings and 40-50 % of the government’s budget coming from oil revenues. He said in this economy, inflation is running at around 20-25 % per year. Despite higher oil revenues, Iranian budget deficits remain a chronic problem, in part due to subsidies. Mr. Fatemi discussed other weaknesses of Iran’s economy, namely a shortage of water, chronic unemployment, incurable inflation, the government’s domination of the economy, a lack of foreign and domestic investment, and brain drain. Mr. Fatemi said that after three decades of Islamic rule, Iran’s dependence on oil revenues has increased dramatically. He discussed how the nuclear impasse has affected the Iranian economy, with UN sanctions making their effects felt – particularly on the banking sector. Mr. Fatemi said gross economic dislocations caused by the continued pressure of sanctions will leave long-lasting marks on the structure of Iran’s economic fabric.
Roundtable with You February 12 talked with human rights activist Parviz Dastmalchi about the nature of laws in the Islamic Republic. Mr. Dastmalchi discussed the various aspects of change that took place as a result of the Islamic Revolution and said, after the Iranian Revolution, “discrimination between the genders became legalized. The concept of equality was eliminated and women became deprived of the privileges society had previously recognized for them.” Mr. Dastmalchi said religious law has replaced civil law. “Violations against ethnic and religious minorities became legalized. Vengeance, or the law of retaliation, has replaced the law. Stoning and amputations have been legalized.” Mr. Dastmalchi said that Article Five of the Islamic Constitution gives the Velayate Faghih, or spiritual leader, the ultimate power in Iran and he is recognized as God’s representative. Mr. Dastmalchi said the impact of such power impacts all levels of ordinary life: “Under Islamic laws, women must cover themselves. Drinking alcohol can lead to the death penalty. The Council of Guardians has the power to screen candidates for parliament.”
Roundtable with You February 13 talked with Hossein Faraji, a journalist who was a German Radio reporter at the time of the Islamic Revolution, about Islamic revolutionaries and their whereabouts today. Mr. Faraji described the atmosphere, the personalities who were active in the suburbs of Paris, and the events leading to the arrival of Ayatollah Khomeini from exile in Paris. He listed the names of men who came to power alongside Khomeini: Ayatollah Mohammad Beheshti, Abolhassan Bani Sadr, Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, Ebrahim Yazdi, Sadegh Khalkhali, Mostafa Chamran, and more. Mr. Faraji discussed Ayatollah Khomeini’s promises for liberty and freedom, free water and free electricity for everyone – none of which has materialized three decades later. Mr. Faraji discussed the fate of Abolhassan Bani Sadr, one of Khomeini’s closest associates, who became the first president of the Islamic Republic. In June 1981, Mr. Bani Sadr was removed from office by order of Ayatollah Khomeini. He fled the country and now lives in Paris as a political refugee. Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, who became the director of Radio and Television, and later was appointed as Foreign Minister, was executed in September 1982. Ebrahim Yazdi lives in Iran and has joined the opposition. Ayatollah Beheshti, a close associate of Khomeini who became the first chief justice of the Islamic Republic, died in an explosion along with 72 other Islamic personalities. Sadegh Khalkhali, the Islamic judge who wrote in his memoir that he ordered the execution of more than 500 people, died in 2003 after having retired in Qom. Mostafa Chamran, who was appointed Minister of War, died in an explosion the same week that Mr. Bani Sadr was removed from the office. Ayatollah Mohammad Montazeri who was widely expected to be Ayatollah Khomeini’s successor, openly criticized the mass execution of prisoners by the Ayatollah. He was subsequently removed from power and has remained under house arrest ever since.
Roundtable with You February 11 talked with historian Majid Tafrashi, a researcher at the British Archive, about the roots of the Iranian Revolution. Mr. Tafrashi presented a new series of documents, recently released by the British government, that contain correspondence and reports by the British Embassy in Tehran to the Foreign Office in London. In these documents, which go back to 1977, he said there is information on Iran’s nuclear activities, reports on activities of opposition elements against the Shah, secret negotiations between the Shah and western powers, and the death of a prominent opposition leader in Britain. Mr. Tafrashi said newly released documents reveal that from 1977 onward, one can tell the Shah’s downfall is approaching. He said the Shah’s government felt no danger from religious elements, rather they felt, the real danger to the government would come from National Front and leftist elements. For this reason, few restrictions were imposed against the religious groups while nationalists and leftists were severely repressed. At this time, religious groups were organized. They established relations with outside forces and mobilized for events leading to 1979’s Islamic Revolution.
On the “Youth Factor” segment of Late Edition, VOA/PNN reporter Kourosh Sehati talked about the blog of journalist Babak Dad (www.babkdad.blogfa.com) whish said, “I wish people such as Khatami, Karoubi and Rafsanjani instead of holding a session for elections that aims to find a solution for some of those who have been disqualified from participating in next month’s parliamentary elections, I wish instead they would hold sessions aimed at negotiating the release of jailed students and workers.” He went on to say in an interview with www.baharestaniran.com that Ali Eshraghi has said, “I have not been disqualified based on any specific clause or law. My crime is that the authorities do not know the grandson of the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
Panelists on Roundtable with You February 17 debated whether the Iranian public should take part in the parliamentary election next month or should boycott the balloting. Hamburg-based political activist Hassan Shariatmadari said taking part in free, fair and transparent elections should be the right that the Iranian public demands from their rulers. “This election seems inherently undemocratic,” he said. “But the Iranian people should continue clamoring for electoral reforms through a social movement. The regime uses heavy voter turn-out as a way of legitimizing its rule,” he added. According to Hormoz Hekmat, the editor of Iran Nameh magazine, no election in the Islamic Republic can be characterized as free or democratic. “I’m not in a position to urge people to either take part or boycott the vote,” he said. “It’s something the Iranian public has to decide for itself.” Mr. Hekmat said free and fair elections require free political parties and a free press, neither of which exists in Iran. “In a system of government where the clerics have the last say in all matters of the state, a free and fair election seems hollow and meaningless because the deck is stacked against the will of the people,” he concluded.
In an exclusive interview with VOA/PNN, Ali Eshraghi, the grandson of Ayatollah Khomeini and a friend of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, explained why he was banned from participating in next month’s parliamentary elections in Iran. He said he was very surprised when he heard that he was disqualified. Mr. Eshraghi said he had presented all required documents to the election committee, but had succeeded in passing only the first stage. He said he would not challenge their ruling, but denied the Guardian Council’s claim that he was disqualified because he didn’t submit his diploma. Mr. Eshraghi said the whole thing is the result of a problematic system as opposed to a problem with him specifically. He explained that he had learned of his disqualification on Internet news sites, but has yet to receive any official notification. He said, “God willing, I will still participate in elections.” Mr. Eshraghi said the new parliament should try to boost Iran’s image abroad, reduce international tensions, and pass new laws to improve people’s lives in Iran. Asked if he expects the new parliament to seriously study US-Iranian relations, Mr. Eshraghi said he’d rather not comment. The interview concluded with his saying reformists should not boycott the elections. [Editor’s Note: The morning after the interview, Mr. Eshraghi called VOA/PNN expressing concern about having spoken to us. The pictures below are of the grandson on the left, and the grandfather at about the same age, on the right.]
News and Views February 17 looked at events in Iran with Abbas Milani, Director of the Iranian Studies Program at Stanford University and a visiting professor in the Department of Political Science. Mr. Milani said the upcoming parliamentary election is inherently undemocratic because every candidate has to go through an unfair vetting. “These elections are more like selections by the Supreme Religious leader. And the only element that is left out from this selection process is the Iranian public.” Commenting on attendance of Iran’s foreign minister at the funeral service for Hezbollah leader Imad Mughniyeh, Mr. Milani said, “Lebanon’s Hezbollah is a creation of the Islamic Republic, and its leader has openly said that Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei has direct control over his militias. The Iranian leadership has made Hezbollah into a tool of its foreign policy.” He said Iran supports Hezbollah, in part, to burnish its anti-Israel image in Arab countries. On the nuclear front, Mr. Milani said, “International public opinion is now squarely against Iran,” adding that the West’s concerns about the nature of Iran’s nuclear ambitions are not entirely baseless.
News and Views February 18 reported that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has vowed to cooperate with the winners of Monday’s parliamentary elections, which are seen as a major step from military rule to civilian-led democracy. Mr. Musharraf made the comments after casting his vote tin Rawalpindi. His office is not contested in this election, but if opposition parties win a two-thirds majority, they would have enough votes to impeach him if they chose to do so. More than 80 million people are registered to vote for representatives to the National Assembly and Pakistan’s four provincial assemblies. Turnout was light early in the day. Voters said they feared more of the political violence that killed hundreds of people during the past few months, including the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto at the end of December.
A fourth round of meetings was to have taken place February 15 between the US, Iran and Iraq. But in an interview February 13 with News and Views, the State Department’s Middle East spokesman, David Foley, broke the news that the meeting was postponed. The delay, requested through back channels by Iran, comes after the death of Imad Mughniyeh, a Hezbollah militant from Lebanon accused of attacks that left hundreds of Americans and Israelis dead, including a US Navy diver, during the infamous 1985 hijacking of a TWA jetliner. He was killed by a car bomb as he left a reception in Damascus marking the 29th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution hosted by the Iranian ambassador to Syria. Both Hezbollah and its supporter, Tehran, have accused Israel of being behind the assassination. Iran has not accused the US of complicity in the killing, but reportedly can’t afford to be seen talking to the US during the same week. The United States applauded the killing, with Assistant Secretary of State Sean McCormack saying, “The world is a better place without this man in it. One way or another he was brought to justice.”
News and Views February 13 reported on the car bomb attack which killed one of the top leaders of the Lebanese militant group, Hezbollah, late Tuesday in Syria. The Shi’ite group announced the death of Imad Mughniyeh on its television channel and accused Israel of carrying out the attack. Israel had accused Mughniyeh of masterminding the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Argentina, which killed 29 people, and a blast at a Buenos Aires Jewish center in 1994 that killed dozens more. Mughniyeh also was on the US State Department's list of the most wanted terrorism suspects. He is believed to have masterminded suicide bombings in Lebanon during the 1974-1990 civil war that killed hundreds of Americans and French, as well as hostage takings of Westerners and the 1985 hijacking of a TWA airliner in which a U.S. Navy diver was killed.
News and Views February 14 reported that Lebanese government supporters marked the third anniversary of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri’s assassination while the leading opposition group Hezbollah mourned the death of top commander, Imad Mughniyeh. Both events took place Thursday in Beirut. Tens of thousands gathered in the rain-soaked streets of the Lebanese capital waving flags at the rally for Mr. Hariri, whose 2005 assassination sparked anti-Syrian protests that led to the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon. Hezbollah was to hold funeral services for Imad Mughniyeh, who was implicated in deadly attacks against Western and Israeli targets for decades. Both Hezbollah and Iran accused Israel of orchestrating the car blast that killed the Hezbollah leader.
News and Views February 16 talked with political analyst Mehrdad Khansari about a meeting in Paris of the Financial Action Task Force, a 34-nation group set up to fight money laundering and terrorist financing. Mr. Khansari said Iran and the United States met as part of the gathering, but are not believed to have met bilaterally. He said Iran’s goal in attending the meeting was to decrease economic pressures due to UN sanctions. Energy analyst Bahman Aghaii Diba said there was a delay in learning about the January 24 meeting because Iran doesn’t talk about such meetings. “This meeting was not about direct talks between the US and Iran,” he said. “It was about money laundering and its prevention, and Iran has been accused of being a center for money laundering.” On separate questions, Mr. Diba said he didn’t think President Ahmadinejad’s scheduled trip to Baghdad March 2 would solve any problems relating to Iranian and US views on stability in Iraq. With regard to the death of Hezbollah militant Imad Mughniyeh, Mr. Diba said the attendance by Iran’s Foreign Minister at his funeral underscores Iran’s support for terrorism.
News and Views February 13 reported that the US is pushing the European Union to increase the pressure on Tehran over its nuclear program by stopping two Iranian banks from operating on European soil. The plan to take steps against Banks Saderat and Melli, a move also backed by Paris and London, would build on a UN Security Council resolution that the US and EU hope to push through this month. So far, Germany, Italy and other European states have resisted taking EU action to ban Saderat and Melli, which Washington alleges are involved in terrorist financing and proliferation activities, because neither bank has yet been the subject of UN action. The lack of an EU ban has left the UK, the US’s closest ally, unable to prevent a branch of Saderat from operating in the City of London, a fact that blunts the effectiveness of the US’s drive for international action against the banks. The US, Britain and France last month reached agreement with Russia and China on a draft Security Council resolution that would call on UN member states “to exercise vigilance over . . . Bank Melli and Bank Saderat, and their branches and subsidiaries abroad” as well as over Iranian banks generally. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said that if the International Atomic Energy Agency does not come under undue pressure, its report on February 20th will be an impartial one.
News and Views February 14 talked about Hurriyet, a leading Turkish paper and its web site, reporting on the one-day visit to Turkey by General James Cartwright, Vice Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff. Most papers described his conversations as focusing on the PKK, Iraq and Afghanistan. But Hurriyet quoted an unnamed government source as saying the US wants to station part of its missile defense shield on Turkish territory near the border with Iran. Hurriyet questioned a one-day trip by a senior official just to talk about the PKK, Iraq and Afghanistan. This system, called X-Band, is also intended to thwart any threat by Iranian missile capability. Turkey, according to Hurriyet, is considering this in view of its close diplomatic and economic relations with Tehran. No State Department official was available to comment.
News and Views February 13 interviewed Salameh Nemat, the former Washington bureau chief of Al Hayat newspaper, on Lebanon three years after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. Mr. Nemat said Iran and Syria do not wish to see a breakthrough in the investigation into Rafiq Hariri’s death. The February 14 anniversary of the former leader’s death has become a symbol for divisions between the heirs to his legacy and their opponents, who are waging a political conflict that has paralyzed government and aggravated communal animosities. “There is a deliberate design by Syria and Iran to continue holding Lebanon hostage in their confrontation with Israel and the United States,” Mr. Nemat added. Commenting on Lebanon’s presidential elections, he said that Syria and Iran have been intent on undermining democracy in Lebanon. He said he doubted electing a president would make Lebanon a model democracy in the region.
On the “Youth Factor” segment of Late Edition, VOA/PNN reporter Hassan Zareazadeh-Ardeshir talked about Iranian authorities earlier this month replacing the controversial chancellor of Tehran University, Ayatollah Abbasali Amid Zanjani. The new chancellor is Farhad Rahbar. Mr. Zareazadeh-Ardeshir said, “If we take a look at the students’ protests, the reasons for this replacement become clear. Students demonstrated to request Ayatollah Amid Zanjani’s resignation, saying he does not have the academic credentials required by the position and that he was imposed on the university as opposed to being selected by the faculty.” Mr. Zareazadeh-Ardeshir noted that demonstrations have been taking place on campus on and off since Ayatollah Amid Zanjani’s appointment in late 2005. At one juncture, he said, students removed the Ayatollah’s turban during a demonstration despite the presence of bodyguards. Another item of contention is that Mr. Amid Zanjani didn’t want interference by students or by the Ministry of Higher Education. In the induction ceremony of the new chancellor, the Minister of Higher Education said, “The replacement is neither the product of resignation nor removal.” The new chancellor, Farhad Rahmar, is an academic economist.
Late Edition February 15 focused on the 2008 annual report of Reporters without Borders, which stated that the Islamic Republic of Iran has the highest number of journalists jailed in the Middle East and is at the bottom of the list from a “freedom of expression” point of view. Using the non-profit’s web site as his guide – www.rsf-persan.org – VOA/PNN contributor Reza Saber said according to this report, Iran also has the highest number of bloggers with complaints in the Middle East. One example Mr. Saber cites is the web log http://farafree.blogskky.com in which the blogger writes, “During the course of my journalism life, I stayed away from writing political stories as much as I could, since people do not really know how difficult it is to write and be afraid for each word you want to write.”
VOA/PNN interviewed Shahryar Mandanipour, former chief editor of Asr-e Pandjshanbeh, on the Iranian government’s closure of the monthly magazine. Officials banned the magazine because of a story and an article in the most recent edition, both written by Mr. Mandanipour. He said he should be held responsible for the two pieces, but his pleas were rejected: “The regime is focusing on the editorial board in Iran that is serving the magazine at the current time.” Mr. Mandanipour, a well-known author, currently resides in Boston where he is a guest scholar at Harvard University. He said the regime claimed his story insulted the prophets because he compared the solitude of the main character in the story to Adam. In the article, he described Iran as being an oppressed society compared to the United States.
News and Views February 12 reported Iraq’s foreign minister said Russian companies seeking to do business in his country won’t be given advantages over companies from other countries even though Iraq is grateful to Russia for writing off most of its debt. “Russia is a member of the Paris Club,” Minister Hoshyar Zebari pointed out, “and as with other members, it pledged to write off our debt.” Mr. Zebari spokes at a news conference in Moscow one day after Russia agreed to write off $12 billion – or 93% -- of Iraq’s debt to Moscow, a gesture that appeared aimed at helping Russian companies win contracts in Iraq. The Iraqi government has said its huge Saddam Hussein-era debt to various countries – estimated at more than $60 billion US dollars – was too big a burden for a nation trying to rebuild. Meanwhile, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said it is deeply concerned about the safety of two CBS journalists kidnapped in Basra on February 10.
News and Views February 15 reported that The New York Times says the Bush administration has agreed to turn over data to UN nuclear inspectors that the US says proves Iran once worked on developing an atomic weapon. The newspaper quoted US and foreign diplomats as disclosing the decision but the content of the data is not clear. Iran has never acknowledged working on nuclear weapons and says its atomic program is for civilian uses only. The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed El Baradei, is expected to issue a report on February 20 on Iran’s nuclear program.
News and Views February 15 also talked with State Department Middle East spokesman David Foley about Iran’s closure of five web sites that the Iranian government claimed “poisoned the atmosphere” on the eve of Iran’s parliamentary elections. Mr. Foley noted that most of the world is committed to freedom of expression and speech. “It’s through discussion and debate that we can move issues forward,” he said. “The government of Iran just shut down Zanan magazine. Why? Were they afraid of what they were going to say?” he asked. Mr. Foley said people should be allowed to hear different points of view and be exposed to different perspectives. He then spoke about the State Department’s public diplomacy efforts, saying people from around the world can communicate on a web site with US officials “to let us know what they think of America. All of their comments are welcome – whether it is praise or criticism.”
Roundtable with You February 16 focused on the Islamic veil for Iranian women with Mehrdad Mashayekhi, a Visiting Assistant Professor at Georgetown University. He joined the Department of Sociology and Anthropology in 1989 and has alternately taught in adjunct and visiting positions. Mr. Mashayekhi said the freedom to choose one’s clothing has come to be accepted universally as a fundamental right – but in Iran it continues to be a source of constant tension between women and the regime, which wants to impose its dress code on women. He said authorities have gone so far as to have criminalized “the practice of not observing the Islamic dress code because they think not covering yourself properly should be considered a social pathology that needs to be confronted.” Mr. Mashayekhi said Ayatollah Khomeini flip-flopped on the issue of an Islamic dress code. “Prior to coming to power,” he said, “Khomeini promised Iranian women they would have total freedom in choosing their clothing. But after taking over the government, he made the issue of the hejab a fundamental pillar of his new vision for Iranian society.” The issue has become such a part of Iran’s Islamic ideology, Mr. Mashayekhi said, that “the regime cannot afford to back down from enforcing the restrictions it has imposed on women.”
Panelists on NewsTalk this week focused on the 29th anniversary of the revolution, saying, “Iran didn’t need a revolution, it needed reforms.” “Shahpur Bakhtiar’s friends undercut him” [the Shah’s last prime minister, he lasted in office just over a month before being killed]. Bakhtiar was the unluckiest of men – “his friends and the clergy stabbed him in the back.” “Khomeini was painted as a kind of Gandhi in 1979.” “Khamenei is making the same mistakes the Shah made: placing too much faith in the military and in intelligence services at the expense of all other sectors of society.” Panelists also discussed the killing of Imad Mughniyeh, saying Syria, without consulting the Islamic Republic, got rid of Mughniyeh out of fear he would be arrested and reveal information about Damascus-sponsored terrorism in Lebanon, including the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.
NewsTalk February 11 opened with segments of the speech delivered by Ayatollah Khomeini at Behesht Zahra cemetery upon his return to Iran from exile 1979. In the speech, Ayatollah Khomeini promised the people of Iran a rosy future: one filled with freedom, democracy, independence and free utilities. He said people are free to chose their destinies and governments and break away from what “our predecessors have established for us.” Human rights activists Elahe Hicks said no court in Iran has been free, fair or legal in the past 29 years. “In the event of the collapse of this regime, the rulers will be taken to court and will be condemned. Since Khomeini, false promises have deceived the people, who continue to be suppressed and repressed. There is no case that Khomeini and his cronies have not been involved in massacres and killings. Hormoz Hekmat, the editor of Iran Nameh magazine, said leftists and the clergy did not have freedom in mind when they were making promises to the masses. They wanted to deprive the masses from the freedoms they were enjoying. “The Shah was paving the way for democracy, but the clergy ruined and abolished any good that the Shah brought about for the Iranian people.” Mr. Hekmat said Khomeini’s idea was to stop the influence of the west: “Human rights and self rule, which were coming from the west, were in his view harmful for Islam and its domination.” Hassan Shariatmadari, the son of Grand Ayatollah Shariatmadari, said his father “opposed the executions and suppression of people from Day One. With the establishment of the Council of Guardians, the basis for a free government was taken away from the Iranian people.”
Today’s Woman February 16 focused on multiple sclerosis with neurologist Mahan Chehrenegar. Dr. Chehrenegar, a clinical researcher, talked about MS, qualifying it as a chronic progressive disease in which nerve cells that control voluntary muscle movement gradually degenerate. He talked about symptoms relating to MS, the long- and short-term effects of the disease, and the importance of early diagnosis. He said many patients fail to consult with a physician about one major symptom of the disease – a loss of vision. “The earlier a patient is diagnosed,” he said, “the better the chances of avoiding dangerous nerve breakdowns.” Dr. Chehrenegar said the signs of MS are hard to recognize, and he talked about the age when people are typically diagnosed – usually in the late 20’s to 30’s – and ways of managing MS. “Different ways that MS can be avoided include taking vitamin D regularly and maintaining a good diet in order to maintain a strong immune system,” he said. Several viewer e-mails on MS were read on air, and Dr. Chehrenegar answered their questions. After the broadcast, the show received rave reviews on the blogs of MS patients in Iran. One such blog said, “The VOA program took the time to read from my Weblog and presented a realistic picture of what it is like to live with this debilitating disease…. It brought me to tears when I heard my own words read on the air.... Kudos to VOA.”
Today’s Woman February 10 examined honor killings, with the UN recently reporting that approximately 5,000 women are victims of honor killings every year. That figure is believed to be higher, however, because many honor killings are never reported. Panelists said the reason for honor killings can be validated simply with the suspicion of inappropriate action – such as falling in love with an unacceptable person, not wanting to go through with an arranged marriage, and/or being raped and thus dishonoring the family. Many women will immigrate to another country in an effort to protect themselves, but they still do not escape the possibility of falling victim to an honor killing. One problem in prosecuting such crimes is that they are frequently carried out by family members, making the police less likely to follow-up because the family itself doesn’t press charges. Speaking from Toronto, lawyer and human rights activist Leili Pourzand said the laws in Iran highly favor and protect men from being punished with regard to honor killings. She said, “If a woman is thought to be having an affair, then her husband is permitted to kill her. In the same regard, if a father has suspicions of his daughter’s actions, he is permitted to kill her with the only punishment being paying a fine.” Ms. Pourzand said there are no laws that protect daughters and wives.
Today’s Woman February 11 looked at censorship in art and media with Hassan Zerehi, the editor-in-chief of Shahravand, a weekly magazine published in Toronto. Panelists discussed the recent closure of Zanan, an Iranian women’s magazine, as well as the letter sent the Iranian government by 45 filmmakers protesting censorship in Iran. They also discussed different routes of expression and publication, such as the Internet. They compared publishing outlets in Iran and elsewhere. In Iran, for instance, if the Ministry of Culture refuses publication, then the artist/author can go no further, while in the US there are numerous alternatives available if one publisher says no. Mr. Zerehi said he believes that everyone has the right to be published, but said there are complexities and conditions, noting there is a policy of publication for every media publication, including his own magazine. “Based on the level of publication and the editorial theme of the media source,” he said, “there are boundaries to what can be published. But there does need to be a differentiation between what censorship is and what publication policy is.” He said the US film ranking system is a good way to advise audiences as to the content of films. With publications, he said there must be permission to publish and permission for there to be criticism and complaints about that publication. Mr. Zerehi said self-censorship is most prevalent in societies where political and cultural censorship are the norm. Panelists also touched on the Internet, Internet censorship, and freedom of expression – good and bad – online.
Today’s Woman February 12 looked at the upcoming parliamentary elections in Iran with journalist Mashallah Shamsolvaezin and human rights activist Narges Mohammadi. Panelists reviewed the names of the six woman candidates running for seats in parliament. They also talked about the influential roles of high-ranking military and government officials, including Ali Jafari, head of the Revolutionary Guards, and Ali Afshar, head of the Elections Department. Efforts to re-qualify previously disqualified candidates for parliament was discussed, with special note made of the re-qualification of some 300 candidates due to the advocacy of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Mohammad Khatami and Mehdi Karoubi. Speaking from Iran, Mr. Shamsolvaezin said that those who used to be a part of the Revolutionary Guards have taken off their uniforms and have infiltrated into Iranian society. Most of these people, he said, feel the need to support the current conservative government. Mr. Shamsolvaezin said, “Until now, the mullahs in Iran would advise people who to vote for, but now the past and present members of the Revolutionary Guard are becoming more influential. It is dangerous and unclear where this type of influence will lead.” Ms. Mohammadi said, “We have now reached a point where traditional and reformist women are coming together to demand representation in the Iranian parliament. Currently, women only account for about 3-4% of the parliament. During the sixth parliament, there was some progress for women, but since then little has been done for the benefit of women’s rights.” Ms. Mohammadi said there have been no female ministers and added that “only 3% of high-ranking management positions are filled by women, while women fill only 29% of technical and engineering jobs.” She said even the word “woman” has been blocked by Internet filters. Ms. Mohammadi said, however, that “people are becoming more aware of the issues women face because of movements such as the One Million Signature Campaign. Today, the women’s movement in Iran is difficult, but there is hope for the future.”
Today’s Woman February 13 focused on women and sports. The show highlighted the life and accomplishments of Tatsiana Stukalava, the Belarusian Olympic award-inning weightlifter. She married an Iranian, moved to Iran and converted to Islam. Ms. Stukalava changed her name to Lalah Rajabi and is now trying to represent Iran in the upcoming Olympics. Panelists talked about the status of the Iranian women’s soccer team and the fact that the team still lacks a trainer. Recently, authorities arrested an Iranian girl for watching a sports game in a stadium, even though she did so with her parents’ permission. The panelists agreed that it is important to focus on the issue of sports even though Iranian women face other serious problems because there should be equality in all aspects of society, including sports. They discussed Islamic laws regarding women and sports and talked about the recent film, Football Under Cover, a film on issues Iranian women face in the field of soccer and sports in general. Panelists talked about women’s beach volleyball and how it became an official Olympic sport in 1992, even though many countries do not allow it.
Today’s Woman February 14 reported that Parvin Ardalan, an influential Iranian human rights activist, has received the Palme Award for her commitment to fighting for human rights. Ms. Ardalan is a founder and active member of the One Million Signatures Campaign, a movement that aims to promote equal rights for women in Iranian society. Ms. Ardalan is committed to promoting democracy and freedom in Iran, and has worked for the online magazine, Zanestan. The Palme Prize is named after the former Prime Minister of Sweden, Olof and is awarded annually for great accomplishments by those who actively promote peace, equality, and security. Past recipients of the award include Aung San Suu Kyi, Javier Perez, and Vaslav Havel. Ms. Ardalan was one of the initial members of the Women’s Cultural Center, the primary Iranian NGO promoting women’s rights, and she has worked for the women’s publications Zanestan, The Feminist Tribune of Iran, and Zanan, all of which have been shut down by the Iranian government. The Olof Palme Foundation said, “Despite persecution, threats and harassment, Parvin Ardalan has been persistent in her struggle and never compromised her ideals. Through constantly more ingenious methods, she and her fellow sisters have managed to increase the support for equal rights.
Today’s Woman February 14 examined Caesarean sections and why there has been such an increase in the number of procedures performed. The average proportion of C-sections in the world is 10-15% while in Iran the average if 43%. In urban areas in Iran, the average is 60%, while in the two main hospitals in Tehran, the average was 90-100%. Panelists discussed the reasons why women prefer or are advised to have C-sections rather than natural births. The primary reasons include eliminating the pain associated with childbirth, avoiding the possibility of poor post-natural birth sexual relations, less time needed for C-sections, and doctors making more money from C-sections. They analyzed the effects of undergoing a C-section: greater chance of infection, hemorrhage, organ damage, and longer hospitalization. They also cited options and alternatives to C-sections, such as the use of epidurals and hypnosis.
Today’s Woman February 15 looked at the art and life of Forugh Farrokhzad in a conversation with her sister, writer Pouran Farrokhzad, and with author and human rights activist Shahla Shafigh. Speaking from Iran, Pouran Farrokhzad said she holds a ceremony every year commemorating the anniversary of her sister’s death. Ms. Farrokhzad said because Forugh’s work was honest, open and original, it is still very well known. She also discussed the influence of the men in Forugh’s life: her cousin and husband Parviz Shapour, and controversial writer and cinematographer Ebrahim Golestan, with whom she had a relationship the last 10 years of her life. Speaking from Paris, Ms. Shafigh talked about the significance of Forugh’s work, and analyzed how she came to be known in the public eye as a guilty person because she was honest and wouldn’t limit her artistic expression as a woman. She, too, touched on Forugh’s relationship with Ebrahim Golestan. Ms. Shafigh recited poetry that illustrated Forugh’s strength as a woman artist.
Late Edition February 16 interviewed Zohreh Jooya, an international opera singer who lives in Vienna, Austria. Born in Mashhad, Ms. Jooya left Iran to study music in Europe. “I received my classical music education at the Academy of Music and later earned my master’s degree in opera at the Conservatory of the City of Vienna. After completing my education in opera and Western music, I decided to familiarize myself with Eastern music and its roots as well, working with well-known Persian artists and distinguished masters.” Ms. Jooya said she is trying to mix Western and Eastern music, to make a connection between two worlds. “I have been very successful so far,” she said. “I have chosen spiritual lyrics or Persian traditional songs for my latest work, and this is a wonderful experience for me as a singer to work in such a challenging area.” Ms. Jooya also talked about her latest humanitarian activities for Afghan women and children in Europe, noting some of the fundraisers she’s held to buy them computers and educational material.
This week’s History Channel segments included a two-part profile on the tempestuous life and career of the man known and loved throughout the world as the Little Tramp – Charlie Chaplin. The profile offers a rare in-depth look at one of the 20th century’s most brilliant comic minds. The third segment focused on hurricanes – how they start, how scientists track them, and how if at all possible, they can be stopped. Best characterized as nature on a rampage, to be in their path is to be in the scariest place on earth. The fourth segment profiled former Secretary of State Colin Powell. Born in Harlem, New York, of hard working West Indian immigrant parents, he became the first black National Security Advisor, rose to the rank of four-star general and was appointed as the first black Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff before becoming the US’s top diplomat. The fifth segment featured the legend of the USS Midway, an aircraft carrier whose 47-year odyssey began a week after the end of World War Two and ended with the liberation of Kuwait in 1991.
This week’s “On the Record” – Persian News Network’s once-a-week program featuring executive editor Kambiz Mahmoudi as ombudsman – answered several e-mails from viewers.
PNN’s question of the week was, “A free election was one of the fundamental requirements of the 1979 revolution. In your view, will the upcoming parliamentary election be free?” Out of 10,612 respondents, 7% said yes, 92% said no, while 1% said they did not know.
The Persian News Network’s television programming complements its radio broadcasts. VOA has the largest combined radio and television audience of all international broadcasters in Iran, with one in four Iranian households tuning into a VOA show at least once a week. Programs also are streamed on www.voapnn.com.
PNN’s 7-hour program block opens with Today in Washington, a brief look at the latest news developments in Washington, as well as the content of PNN’s upcoming programs. Then we present cultural programming translated into Farsi from A&E Television Network’s The History Channel. We intersperse 30-minutes of news breaks throughout our original programming, which includes the following shows: Today’s Woman, PNN’s newest program, had its debut September 27, 2007. The one-hour program features influential women from around the world discussing a full spectrum of topics, including social, medical, human rights, legal, sports and business. News and Views, PNN’s existing flagship, is now 2 hours in length, and features live news coverage of the latest headlines from Washington, Iran and across the globe. Roundtable with You is a talk show with expert guests, featuring discussion of current events, politics, popular culture and global health. Viewers and listeners from Iran and around the world participate in the show via phone calls and e-mails.
Late Edition begins with a wrap up of the day’s news and a close look at the day’s top story. Targeted to a younger demographic, the show also features segments on health, technology, sports, entertainment and culture. NewsTalk is a new journalists’ roundtable discussion program that features a news update followed by an examination of the day’s top stories and an in-depth look at issues relating to Iran.
PNN INSIDER – VIEWER PERSPECTIVES
VOA/PNN’s special program on the 29th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution generated volumes of e-mail and phone calls. The son of Grand Ayatollah Hossain Ali Montazeri called program anchor Setareh Derakhshesh after the program was broadcast, saying his father – who she interviewed for the anniversary special – had watched the program, and that he thought it was excellent and well-balanced. [Editor’s Note: The Ayatollah’s son is usually his spokesman as he does not speak directly with the media.] Empress Farah Pahlavi also called to thank Ms. Derakhshesh for a well-balanced program. Akbar Gandji, a well-known dissident and political activist in Iran, called the next day to thank VOA/PNN for its efforts and for such an in-depth analysis of the revolution. Mr. Gandji said his friends and colleagues also watched and appreciated the program.
From an Iranian viewer in Sweden: “At 22 Bahman 1979, I was 13-years-old. I saw the demonstrations in Abadan and Shiraz, and they were nothing like the big demonstrations in Tehran, Tabriz, Qum or Esfahan. Please tell young people in other Iranian towns that there were no big demonstrations. Young people must be aware of these facts. There was no revolution [across the country]. It was these four towns that carried out the revolution and it is these same people who must answer to the [Iranian] people why they did what they did. I love your programs. You are the first, the best truly Iranian TV.”
From a viewer in Iran: “It is a shame that an intellectual thinks the revolution was stolen from him; no revolution could be stolen from an intellectual by an Akhond [slang for cleric or mullah]! He was no intellectual otherwise he would not have been following an Akhond. An Akhond by definition is some one opposed to intellectualism! Let’s boycott tomorrow’s demonstration and the next election.” [Editor’s Note: Viewer was responding to a remark by former President Abol Hassan Bani Sadr on VOA/PNN’s anniversary special that “intellectuals who claimed they were duped by the Ayatollah are lying.”]
From a viewer in Iran: “No intellectual will ever accept a monarchy defeated. Let’s face it. If these retards were any good, we would not be in the mess we find ourselves today. You are degrading yourself by giving air time to a lost cause.”
From a viewer in Iran: “Condolences to the people of Iran on the anniversary of the Revolution.”
From an Iranian viewer in the United Kingdom: “Hello. I couldn’t watch the interview with Mrs. Farah Pahlavi yesterday. Please repeat it again. She is still beloved and respected all over Iran. Thanks.”
From a viewer in Shiraz: “Thank you for perfect program on February 11, 2008 and also thanks to Ms. Derakhshesh for such professional work. I encourage you to continue such work so that the heavy promotion of Islamic Republic channels would be frustrated.”
From a viewer in Iran: “Khomeini, when he arrived in Iran 29 years ago, said, ‘We want to enhance your morality on top of your financial well-being’ [promising that his Islamic government would usher in a new era of brotherhood where there would be no place for crime and certainly no suffering or hardship]. Last week, my neighbor’s car was stolen as well as my brother’s in Tehran. Is this what Khomeini meant?”
From a viewer in Tehran: “I really enjoyed the anniversary special on News and Views tonight. Please forward this e-mail to that section as I am afraid they [Iranian authorities] will control e-mails as I am from the capital. Meanwhile, I want to participate in polling, but the proxy – http://kkhatmi.com – doesn’t work.
As was the case with most VOA/PNN staffers, writer/reporter Kourosh Sehati, who works for Late Edition, was still receiving e-mails from friends in Iran several days after the anniversary special. The friends wrote that the special had a big impact on people, particularly students, and that “they are still talking about it.” The friends sent the PNN staff their congratulations and thanked us for “being neutral.”
From a viewer in the Iranian Azerbaijan city of Orumiye: “The fact of the matter is that the youth and the majority of the Iranian public get their Iran and world news through your programming. We learn about democracy, free speech, tolerating dissent, rationalism and other important ethical and social issues. These are exactly the matters that the regime wants us to be in the dark about. I’m not a political person, but a friend introduced me to your programming. I found your network to be head and shoulders about above the rest available. I spend my everyday life with you. And I have had to spend a fortune trying to counter the efforts made by the regime to jam your broadcasts. People are glued to their TV’s from 6 pm until the last word uttered by [anchor Jamshid] Chalangi at midnight.”
From an Iranian viewer in France: “If the clerics had the power to do so, they would have blown up VOA’s satellite in space no matter how much it cost them to do it.”
From an Iranian viewer in Belgium: “We all know that VOA/PNN has upwards of 20 million viewers inside Iran and if we add Iranian expatriates, it’s probably the most watched network in the world. My question is how can a network with such reach only hear from the regime’s agents when it opens its phone lines? How can these agents turn a blind eye toward Iran’s Gulags and just harp on Guantanamo? These clowns try to take over the talk shows and spew their propaganda on behalf of the Islamic regime – a regime that spends hundreds of million dollars tooting its own horn.”
From a viewer in Iran: “I watch NewsTalk every night. I really enjoy it and am very satisfied with all of the panelists. I wish you all great success.”
From a viewer from Tehran: “Today, February 14th, there is a special happiness in the capital of Iran and also the other cities of Iran because it is Valentine’s Day! For example, the streets are full of eager people shopping for nice gifts. There is a famous shop in the northern part of Tehran, and today it is full of people who are shopping, and pretty young girls are wrapping the Valentine’s Day gifts so nicely. Thank you so much for your informative programs. Have a nice Valentine’s Day.”
From a viewer in Iran: “Hello. Today’s Woman is useful for men, too, because men learn more about women, creating a greater understanding of the other half of our society. I hope one day we all are equal regardless of our gender.”
From a male viewer in Babolsar, along the Caspian Sea: Iran: “I always watch your program. I have to congratulate you all for your broadcasts. In Iran, the women anchors on air are not as great as the ones on your program. I just want to tell you to use this opportunity you’ve been given in the best possible way. And again, thank you for the great program.”
From a viewer in Iran: “In my opinion, women representatives in the Iranian parliament have no use for other women. They do not believe in equality. For instance, one of these women representatives has announced that it is a man’s right to have a second wife. These women in the current Iranian parliament are the enemies of the freedom loving women who fight against the discriminatory laws of Iran. Thank you.”
From a female Iranian viewer: “I have been in the United States five days now. When I was in Iran, I followed your programs all the time. I am very interested in participating in your programs, particularly Roundtable with You. My area of expertise is in two areas of sociology and educational psychology. I’d like to extend my availability to you on topics including anti-bigotry. With best wishes.”
A viewer in Iran sent in the cartoon below referring to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s four German shepherd watch dogs, each of which cost $161,000. Ahmadinejad, in the tree, is saying, “What in hell do they want from me?” and the man replies, “They’re trained to catch terrorists, sir.”
From a college student in Esfahan: “I am a freshman at Esfahan University, but contrary to the university’s commitment to allocate dormitory space to daytime students, officials have not allocated rooms to me or my friends. Furthermore, the university’s authorities have treated us harshly. In response to our follow-ups, they told us, “Even if we had vacant dorms, we would not allocate them to you.” Now what kind of answer is that?”
From a viewer in Iran: “In the last call from Iran on tonight’s Roundtable, the caller was trying to make a joke at VOA’s expense. When you see a caller speaking in an unreasonable way, even if it is against this brutal regime, I think you should disconnect the line. I would be pleased to see you record calls and broadcast them on a delayed basis for your guests [so that you can screen problem callers].”
From a viewer in Iran: “When watching the news from the Iranian government, the information is obviously artificial. All of the best governments in the world face opposition. By trying to control the media in Iran, the government pretends everybody agrees with their policies, and that the only people who oppose the Iranian government are devils without value. What is painful is the way the Iranian government perceives its citizens as stupid. And what is more painful is why there are no results. Are the people of Iran really this incompetent?”
From a viewer in Iran: “I thank you for doing such a good job [on Today’s Woman]. I am a fellow journalist and I realize how hard it is to produce a program. We cannot accomplish the best program every time. My best experiences are from failing and learning from the incident.”
From an Iranian woman in Denmark: “I follow Today’s Woman regularly. I enjoy it and learn from it. I would like to ask you to discuss more issues regarding laws pertaining to women, particularly divorce laws.”
From the National Society for Protection of the Rights of Children: “Some 4,000 people, including many children, attended a Snowman Festival at Dokanan Park, in the town of Baaneh, in the [western province of] Kurdistan, Iran on February 8. The outdoor gathering of children and parents was a day to play and work together while raising public awareness and concern about the exploitation, harassment and punishment of children under the age of 18 in Iran. Some participants carried placards saying, ‘No to Child Labor,’ ‘Stop violence against Children,’ and ‘Children are entitled to a happy, secure and well-balanced life.’ [Editor’s Note: See http://www.koodakan.blogsky.com/ for more information.]