Interview: Iranian blogger

Potkin Azarmehr tells Al Jazeera that media reports on Iran are the ‘tip of the iceberg’.

Iranians in France demonstrating against the Iranian election results [AFP]

Potkin Azarmehr is a British-Iranian blogger based in London who has written extensively about Iran. In 1979, his parents, both school teachers, participated in the Islamic uprising which overthrew the Shah.

Azarmehr left Iran after a ‘cultural revolution’ crackdown in 1980, when many protesters were arrested after universities were ‘intellectually cleansed’.

He says many of those arrested were later executed in 1988.

Azarmehr says he is not a full-time revolutionary, but an ordinary man who struggles to juggle his time between writing about Iran, his career and his family.

Al Jazeera interviewed Azarmehr on the eve of a co-ordinated mass protest of solidarity with the Iranian people in cities across Europe.  

Al Jazeera: Through your blog you are part of what the media has termed an ‘electronic information revolution’ that has rapidly spread in covering the events in Iran – why are you doing it?

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Potkin Azarmehr: I started the blog because I felt what was happening in Iran was not being accurately reported. The foreign correspondents had limitations, if their reports were too critical, they would get kicked out of Iran and most of them liked working in Tehran, so what they reported was very toned down; they stuck to safe subjects that didn’t cross red boundaries.

Furthermore, the Islamic Republic has been funding a very well-organised lobby of academics, activists, apologists and think-tanks who have actually been trying to justify the regime as an acceptable democratic, popular government whose ‘anti-imperialist’ stand justifies its human rights abuses.

For these reasons, I started the blog to show the other side of the coin. My sources are the blogs, news websites, even official websites and people inside Iran and my target was the English-speaking people outside Iran.

What do you hope to achieve by staging the protests on Saturday?

Saturday is declared as the global day of solidarity with the people of Iran. In the last 28 years, the struggles of the people of Iran have not had their due publicity and news coverage. The people in Iran have felt alone and thought the world does not care about them.

It is very important to give them this psychological boost that they are no longer on their own, that the Iranian expatriates around the world are with them and the world is admiring their courage and cares for their plight and that the media is no longer indifferent and will reflect the protests.

We also want to let the Iranian hard-liners know that the apologists they have hired in Europe and America, can no longer gloss over their true nature.

How much of what is really happening in Iran is getting out to the outside world?

Iranian protesters say the media has not reported the crucial issues after the elections 

I would say the tip of the iceberg. Now that most of the foreign journalists have been expelled and the ones remaining are under severe restrictions to report, it is down to citizen journalists, but they are under pressure too.

If they manage to avoid arrest and the terrible consequences that would follow, they have problems with uploading the pictures and film footage because of internet restrictions and the implementation of the draconian laws which can ask service providers in Iran to hand over user data for the last three months.

But the repression is so bad that even the tip of the iceberg which has been leaked out shows the terrible brutality of the Basij [militia] and other repressive forces in Iran who are brain-washed to follow [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei], the Supreme Leader.

What do you think of the general coverage of events in Iran by the Western media and do you think the story is already beginning to fall away as a leading story?

Foreign media seem to be only interested when there is protest footage, the rest of the news and other forms of protest which are just as important by the people may not be ‘sexy’ enough for the media.

More importantly than that, many aspects of the situation have not been explained well to the public.

For example who are the people pulling the strings behind the coup and why are they doing this? Or how protesters have identified Russia as the main sponsor and supporter of the coup.

On the Friday when the sermon following prayers was led by Hashemi Rafsanjani [the former Iranian president and current head of the Assembly of Experts], lots of footage came out of Iran from different locations, just about every one of them included chants against Russia.

But I don’t know of any news media which has given due coverage to this and asked the question why the people of Iran are blaming the Russians.

Do you feel that the opposition in Iran is receiving enough support from other Muslim countries?

Mousavi was prime minister during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s [AFP]

Not at all, and this is important. Somehow the Muslim world has forgotten that the protesters in Iran are also their Muslim brothers and sisters.

It goes back to the media not having explained why this coup has happened and who is behind it and why they have carried it out.

They seem to mistakenly think the protesters have been duped by America and are misguided.

They forget that Mir Hossein Mousavi, for example, was prime minister during the terrible eight years of war against Iraq, and despite all the difficulties the country faced then he managed to keep most essential goods accessible to the public through the system of rationing he introduced and how he resisted the bazaaris [bazaar traders] who wanted to milk the situation by running the country according to the market forces.

They don’t even know about Messbah Yazdi, the idealogue of the coup and Ahmadienjad’s mentor, and how he refused to take part in the revolution against the Shah in 1979 and what his crazy reasoning was.

The people of Iran have realised that mixing religion and state is bad for the religion itself, that doesn’t mean they are against Islam and the average non-Iranian Muslim does not seem to understand this.

Some in the Muslim world look up to the Supreme Leader in Iran as their liberator but if this is how he treats his own people he is not fit to liberate any other people either.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, says that the US and Britain are behind many of the people blogging and twittering on the events in Iran. Have you been approached by representatives of any government to carry out your blogging?

If that was the case we would not have been so critical of the US and UK administrations. What many like us have come to realise is that both the US and UK governments have been very naive about who actually runs Iran.

They too have been influenced by the misinformation presented to them by Islamic Republic lobbyists.

We have come to realise that the UK and US governments are not reliable allies. If tomorrow Ahamdinejad does a deal with them over the nuclear issue, they would not bat an eyelid if human rights abuses in Iran continue. We see the difference between rhetoric and fact.

When Bush was calling Iran part of the axis of evil, Cheney’s Halliburton was winning contracts in Iran. Or look at this message of congratulation sent by HM Queen to the Islamic Republic, it refers to the day of the victory of the Islamic revolution in 1979 as Iran’s ‘National’ Day. Even the regime in Iran does not refer to it as our National Day.

And look how the Islamic Republic continues to work unabated in the UK. Press TV operates without any restrictions, the Supreme Leader has its representative office in Maida Vale, London.

Regime officials come and go to London for their shopping trips and medical treatments without any hindrance.

People are not dying in the streets of Iran for the US and UK; they are making the ultimate sacrifice because they want to have a government that reflects their wishes, not a mafia clan of some 200 people who want to remain unaccountable and do away with the ‘Republic’ in the Islamic Republic.

If there was a full recount of the election voting, and Ahmadinejad came out as the winner, perhaps with a dramatically reduced majority, would you accept the result and would the opposition end its resistance?

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, (seated) endorsed the election results [AFP]

I am confident that this would not happen. Ahmadinejad’s gang are experts in rent-a-mob tactics and they still can’t bring to the streets crowds as large as the opposition despite the dangers the other side face.

But, of course hypothetically speaking, if this happened we have to respect the majority consensus in everything.

However, we must not forget that an election in which candidates are pre-approved is not fair to begin with and if the interior minister who is in charge of administering the elections is Ahmadienjad’s crony who became an overnight millionaire because of Ahmadinejad’s favours, so it depends how a re-election is conducted as well.

How united is the Iranian leadership in resisting the opposition?

For 28 years we have had this problem of not knowing how to unite the Iranian people. It seems the coup masters have managed to achieve this through their own foolishness. Today there is one line that divides the people of Iran, are you for the coup or against the coup.

The leadership is also united and determined not to give an inch to the opposition. They fear the consequences and know how hated they are but at the end of the day if people decide not to co-operate with a government no one, no matter what repressive measures they take, can survive for long.

Is Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, as powerful as he is portrayed? Is there a face-saving mechanism by which he could stand down and what would you like to see his role replaced with?

He is powerful in the sense that the minority who obey his orders seem totally brain-washed by him at the lower level and those at the top, have been looked after very well by him.

But, the longer the protests go on, those who obey his orders will realise the truth and will not take part in killing their countrymen.

The longer the Supreme Leader takes to compromise and the more people are killed and injured, the less chance he will have for a face-saving mechanism.

Although the people of Iran are forgiving and magnanimous people, they are not out for revenge and blood, they just want their rights and the realisation of their 100-year struggle for democracy and freedom.

Source: Al Jazeera

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