Iran's highest hard-line clerical leader gets touchy-feely on a social-networking site from which Iranians are banned.
Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Roozbeh Farahanipour, an Iranian journalist, democracy activist, former political prisoner in Iran and head of Marze Por Gohar Party (MPG), an Iranian opposition party seeking the establishment of a secular republic in Iran.
FP: Roozbeh Farahanipour, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's highest hard-line clerical leader, has started a Facebook page. You have, in turn, launched an online campaign to have him kicked off of Facebook, circulating a diagram that includes step-by-step directions in English and Persian on how to report the page to Facebook. I would like to talk to you about this today.
Let’s begin with your thoughts on this tyrant having a Facebook page in general. It’s intriguing, to say the least, in the context of him forbidding Iranians from visiting social-networking sites and sentencing violators to death. What are your thoughts?
Farahanipour: Thanks Jamie.
Considering my background as a journalist in Iran, including my position as the editor of “Vohooman” monthly magazine which was closed down by the Islamic Republic, I take this as an additional assault upon my basic rights and an affront to every journalist’s dignity.
FP: What are your concerns about this blatant hypocrisy of Khamenei?
Farahanipour: Almost all my life, I have been feeling the pressures and the injustices of this regime. The first time I was summoned to a court, I was a 14-year-old boy in grade 8 and I was tried at the local security and intelligence court of the school system which functions under the “Education Ministry” and controls classroom political and religious infractions for the “Intelligence Ministry.” My crime was writing a composition for the state examinations, which they thought contained politically incorrect ideas. Of course, they failed me on this subject. At the time, Khamenei was the regime’s President and Khomeini was the Supreme Leader. I am also constantly reminded of my good friend and colleague, Yakub Mehr-Nahad, who was hanged by the regime, as a weblog activist on August 22, 2008.
FP: I am very sorry about Yakub. He is in our thoughts and prayers.
I want to get to Khamenei’s Facebook page and what can be done to have him kicked off of Facebook, but I would like to first talk to you about some of your thoughts on the Islamic Republic and your background.
Your thoughts on Khomeini?
Farahanipour: All the problems we have started under Khomeini’s leadership, even though some Islamic “reformists” today are trying to whitewash his dictatorial rulings and his leading part in all of the atrocities.
FP: Tell us a bit about the activities you did in connection to the Marze Por Gohar Party.
Farahanipour: The MPG, comprising of young journalists, began working in Iran in 1998. After the 1999 student uprising, some of its leaders were imprisoned for leading the uprising and were forced to flee Iran afterwards. I was identified as the number two leader of the uprising in the regime’s media. The whole uprising began in opposition to a draconian law passed by the regime’s “Parliament” for further limiting the press.
FP: Your personal experiences with press censorship?
Farahanipour: I can site several examples.
Before the permanent closing of the “Vohooman,” I received a stern warning regarding an article I had written about the status of dogs in ancient Iran - which they said was contradictory or offensive to Khomeini’s writings which considered dogs as filthy and devilish beings. This warning came from one of the many security agencies in Iran, called the “General Nationwide Investigation” service, which was said to be operating under Khamenei’s office. Later, the magazine was permanently closed by the ministry of propaganda and censorship, which they call the ministry of “development” or “Ershaad,” because of other articles.
I also wrote a satirical and pictorial children’s book, called “Who is the Dictator?,” for which I was labeled “corrupter on the earth” by an infamous militia newspaper called “Yaa lessaraat.” This was a very dangerous label, since hundreds had already been executed under the same dubious accusation. In fact, they claimed I was offending Khamenei, even though I had just referred to very general characteristics of dictators. Another major Ayatollah, named Makaarem Shirazi, went a step further and issued a religious edict for my death.
FP: What do you think about Khamenei, Iran’s “Supreme Leader”?
Farahanipour: He is not in fact “Iran’s” leader, but merely the regime’s leader; he was selected by the “Council of Experts,” another unelected institution. I believe he is an occupier in Iran.
FP: What is the status of freedom of the press in Iran?
Farahanipour: According to the website of “Reporters Without Borders,” Iran’s rating among 179 countries in 2012 is 175, while Syria rated at 176, Turkmanistan at 177, North Korea at 178 and Eritrea at 179. These regimes are believed to be more repressive than the Islamic Republic. The “Committee to Protect Journalists” has reported that following Burma, Iran is the most dangerous country for bloggers.
FP: Who are some journalists who have been killed in Iran?
Farahanipour: In the early days of the revolution, many young and lesser known journalists were executed by the regime. The infamous death edict by Khomeini against the writer, Salman Rushdie, must not be forgotten. I can name some of the more recent ones:
Majid Sharif, a moderate Islamic journalist who was assassinated along with many others such as Mohammad Jaffar Pouyandeh and Mokhtari, in a later publicized campaign of liquidating dissidents in 1998. Writer Saiidi Sirjani was killed in prison, my colleague Yakub Mehr-Nahad, a blogger, was hanged in 2008. Mrs. Zahra Kazemi, a Canadian journalist visiting Iran, was arrested and killed under severe beatings inside the Evin prison in 2003, while a few weeks ago, a young blogger called Sattar Beheshti was killed in jail, his only crime was being accused of web log activities.
I should add that poets have also been arrested and executed in the past, because poetry has traditionally been a major cultural phenomenon in Iran. In the last two years, many poets have been arrested and some have been ordered to stop writing poetry for a number of years.
Books of course have also been subject to a variety of censorship techniques, preventing a huge range of subjects from being published.
FP: Internet limitations?
Farahanipour: Recently, the Khamenei regime has created a “Facebook police,” in charge of searching people’s pages on Facebook for “offensive” comments of all kinds – which in Khamenei’s regime, is pretty much everything. An “offensive comment” includes women’s photos without the compulsory Hijab. The “perpetrators” are arrested. There are currently plans for creating a closed and controlled internet system within the borders of Iran, in order to prevent access to the international web, which is sometimes called the “suitcase internet” or even the “Halal Internet”!
Filtering of websites, the whole internet and virtual networks including Facebook have been constantly hindered in order to prevent the free flow of information into Iran.
Khamenei has frequently referred to the “evil” Western “soft war” against his regime, specifically naming Facebook as one of the weapons used in this war. In fact, Facebook’s name was written on a large display and paraded in major public events as an evil symbol of the West.
FP: What has Khamenei himself personally done against media freedom?
Farahanipour: Well, one example is that in 2002, when the “Parliament” was going to review and possibly ease the press laws, Khamenei himself ordered them to stop the review in an official letter, henceforth called the “Velaayee Command,” meaning the command by the “Guardian” (the most basic definition for the Supreme Leader), as happily reported by Sheik Karubi, then the speaker of the “Parliament.” The “Parliament,” being just a pretense to a Western style legislative body, obeyed and the process was abandoned.
FP: What do you say to those who argue that Facebook is a democratic phenomenon and that preventing anyone from access to it, including Khamenei himself, is an unethical thing?
Farahanipour: Democratic ethics is a two way street. One cannot accept Khamenei freely participating in Facebook while he filters Facebook, censors the press, launches a Facebook police, establishes a cyber army of hackers, orders a controlled “Halal” internet and kills bloggers like Yakub Mehr-Nahad and others named above.
FP: Some people believe that by “liking” Khamenei’s page, they can open a venue for dialogue with and criticism of him. What do you think about that?
Farahanipour: Perhaps some people want to cross the sea of blood between the people and Khamenei; I am not one of those, and neither are many others. I advise those who “like” this page to think about boycotting it, instead of legitimizing and popularizing it. They should side with freedom, rather than dictatorship. I personally tell my Facebook friends that if they prefer Khamenei’s page to mine, to please leave the list of my friends.
FP: How did you find out about Khamenei’s presence on Facebook?
Farahanipour: There is an old Iranian saying that everything is a British conspiracy! It happens that this was also reported by BBC.
FP: What are you asking people to do?
Farahanipour: I am asking everyone to report Khamenei’s page, in order to:
1- Respect American sanctions against Khamenei,
2- Respect human rights,
3- Prevent cyber threats and cyber terrorism, which will be one aim of a Khamenei page, as a leader of millions of extremist zealots worldwide.
FP: Some critics would argue that this is going against ethics of journalism.
Farahanipour: Khamenei’s presence on Facebook is an affront to the blood of all those who have been killed by Khamenei’s regime, all those journalists, bloggers and free thinkers. I am glad that I have so many friends among bloggers and journalists who will endeavor to oppose Khamenei’s presence by means of internet activities, articles, cartoons, satire and etc., which are all legitimate and effective non-violent means for opposing dictatorship.
We remember that we were successful in forcing the Saudi King Abdullah to disconnect and abandon his page after hundreds of thousands of Iranians opposed his use of an anti- Iranian name for the Persian Gulf, early in 2012.
FP: Roozbeh Farahanipour, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.
For all those who want to help get Ayatollah Ali Khamenei kicked off of Facebook, go to Roozbeh’s online campaign to make a difference. There you will find a diagram that includes step-by-step directions in English and Persian on how to report the page to Facebook. Keep in mind that this is the Facebook page of a leader of a murderous and tyrannical Islamist regime that vows to annihilate Israel off the face of the earth. If this is not a profile/page of hate, then what is?