Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Iran's Good Media Listens to the Judiciary

Maryam Kashani, Rooz Online:
“They have not left any space for independent and freedom loving papers. From their perspective, a good journalist is the one who accepts the dictated stories of the judiciary, ministry of guidance, and national security council.”

These are the words of Issa Saharkhiz, a journalist who has been sentenced by jury of the special press offences. Among those on the press jury are Ms Zahra Shojayi, advisor to president Khatami and Fateme Karrubi, the wife of Mehdi Karrubi, the founder of the Hezbe Etemaad are members of the Hezbe Etemad Melli group. Read on for comments. READ MORE

R (R ): The most significant part of the sentence against you was that they did not even agree that you deserve leniency.

Issa Saharkhiz (IS): No, the significant part was that, from their point of view, i had insulted the jury through my defence, which was unprecedented.

R: What did you say that they considered insulting?

IS: They told me that Mr. Hajjarian (a founding member of the ministry of intelligence of Iran who later joined reformers) deserved what he got for writing those things in his newspaper, (Hajjarian was shot at and remains paralyzed for life). They also said that Akbar Ganji too deserved what he got. I in return told them in court that they had to be very close intellectually and in action with those who committed those acts to blatantly defend their actions in court. How can one pass a death sentence on someone without a trial? In any case, they did not like the things that I said in court. They wanted and expected me to apologize to them in court and accept that I had committed crimes against them. Four years ago court sessions were held in small halls but they were filled with people. Many had to be turned away and stayed outside the courtroom. Many times they brought in their own people into the courtroom. Nowadays however they hold court hearings in large auditoriums that can accommodate 150 people. The place has a digital sound system with large TV screens, one behind the judge and another one on the other side. But the place is empty. At most there would be 10 people in it. There is even no journalist or a photographer present. In short, they have created an atmosphere which journalists cannot report. They specifically tell them not to publish such reports. And because of this, nobody participates in the court proceedings. The atmosphere is one of complete censorship. And whoever appears in court these days, they now defend themselves. This surprises them. This is because when most defendants in court renounce their deeds and themselves, or repent their actions if someone comes along who behaves differently and instead starts defending himself, they are taken back. This is why they would pass me notes during my trial telling me not to say what I wanted to say and talk differently. They said the posture that I took only intensified their attacks against me and increased their suspicions of my intentions against them.

R: Who passed you notes?
IS: The judge did that. He passed me the protests and questions that were passed on to him from jury members. What they said was that what I was saying was not a defense but merely a repetition of the crimes they said I had committed which had brought me to the court. In simple, they wanted me to act as if I was a criminal and as if I had committed crimes and violations, and therefore had to ask for leniency and forgiveness. Then their attitude would be proportionate to my please for mercy. The fact is that there was nothing un-factual in my publications (Akhbar Eghtesad and Aftab). My contention in court was that it was others, not me, who had violated the constitution or questioned the republican regime. It is others who were engaging in censorship. None of these were naturally music to their ears.

R: So how did the proceedings proceed?
IS: When they first read the charges against me in court, my defense lawyers told me that nobody had the guts to publish the serious charges. And they were right. No newspaper or a news agency published the charges that they read against me. Of course they also did not publish my defense arguments.

R: And if you had apologized, you think they would have foregone the serious charges against you?
IS: Yes. If I had said that I had erred and requested that they pardon me, the proceedings would have taken a different course and the final result would have been different. My defense attorneys too had been told, expressly and implicitly, that the defense posture that I had taken made it difficult for them to reduce the gravity and charges. They said they could not even change the prison sentence to a monetary punishment.

R: The sentence against you is in fact a warning to others.
IS: Yes. Through my sentence they are really announcing the kind of journalist they do not like, while demonstrating the kind of journalist that pleases them and they like. Anyone who pleases their wishes, is allowed to survive. Otherwise, those journalists and media that they believe engage in a challenge, there is no room left for them. They pronounce to others through such sentences and methods that anyone who takes a course different from what they expect, the latter would be treated harshly.

R: So what the specifications of a journalist or a newspaper that they desire?
IS: They like journalists and newspapers whose headlines come from thee sources: the prosecutor’s office, the ministry of guidance, and the national security council and its officials. This is why now many photographs and news reports do not find their way into many newspapers. Newspapers are trying to increase their pages, but they do not have much they can publish. Their contents are superficial. This is what is dictated to them. And they accomplish this by repeatedly summoning editors, managers and journalists. They issue warnings to them and tell them to whom to talk, what to write and even specifically identify which reporter should write what or not do so. Whether he should write on domestic or foreign issues, etc. Journalists on the other hand, accept what they are dictated and act accordingly because they want to survive.