Mr.Sanjari you are or have been a student activist in Iran, could you tell us about the student movements in Iran, considering that these movements often get confused with the pro-democracy movements said to be backed by the Bush Administration?
I think we have to clarify a few issues in order to distinguish the student movement and as you referred the pro-democracy movement.
The Iranian student movement has no interdependence on any foreign government programs and is totally independent and self ruled. Although it is true to say that there are various trends in the movement.
The Iranian Intelligence ministry, however, has tried so far to propagate the idea that the student movements have been harnessed in co ordination with the US government, or foreign governments and movements, in order to arrest and detain students under this pretext.
The Iranian regime has recently adopted this method and has detained illegally a couple of active dissident students. They are accused of being in contact with foreign organizations and governments to overthrow the Iranian regime.
This is not true, and is only a pretext used by the Iranian Intelligence ministry to suppress the student movement.
There are different trends of thought amongst the students, ranging from liberals to Marxists, the latter leaning more on Marxist-Leninist ideology.
These groups tend to be negative on any help from the west for establishing democracy.
Of course I can’t neglect the fact that some students, while losing hope on any possible change in the present political infrastructure of the Islamic republic, have turned an eye to support and help offered by the US for the people’s civic movement that seeks to change the regime in Iran.
How effective are these movements and are they sponsored by any mainstream political opposition?
The student movement has always been a stronghold against all totalitarians and tyrants for all freedom seeking groups in our history.
The movement’s aspirations for freedom always began from the university campus and led out into public arenas, echoed in alleys and public places and finally has been absorbed by the people.
In past years, we have suffered from a vacuum left by the absence of experienced and organized opposition parties and independent news media in our political society. The task of safeguarding the movements’ stronghold was therefore left to the democratic student movement to sustain the opposition in Iran.
The significance of this movement is its financial independence from the government.
Unlike some reformist parties in the government, they do not believe in conservatism, and tend to pass the “red line” drawn by the regime constantly, by criticizing the anti-democratic constitution of the Islamic Republic.
They are in constant touch with their environment and encourage their families to join them in the resistance.
For example they support the women’s movement or take part in the workers and teachers demonstrations. They help them out to communicate their demands in university campuses, and try to unify the different movements in the society. They are very much aware that their success lies in realizing this unity.
I should finally say that, they are supported by the mainstream opposition movements, while at the same time face much threat of being manipulated by the reformists. They are very much reluctant in accepting this pressure.
Have any student demands been met so far?
The Iranian regime is incapable of meeting the demands of the students’ protests.
Some of the demands of the students have been the dismantling of the disciplinary committees established by the government, the closing of the secret security force units in the Universities-known as “Harasat,” giving Academic freedom which would mean that political pluralism is realized in the University and freedom in exchange of political opinion would be granted.
But the regime has planned to carry out a cultural revolution such as the one carried out in 1996. During those years, many progressive professors and also pro-democracy students were discharged from Universities. They close newspapers, arrested protesting students, and set them up with fraudulent cases, and accuse them of being in contact with foreign western governments.
This regime intends to purge the universities as we say in a “Stalinist style” perhaps replicating the Chinese cultural purge.
Students demand regime change, but they have only been suppressed violently. They demand respect for Democracy, and the compliance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
This regime is antagonistic with Democracy and all it stands for, because of its ideology.
In your profile we know that you have been the spokesman for a group of Iranian political prisoners, could you tell us of their present situation, their demand and political composition?
Please allow me first to explain a fact that is taken for granted in fairly democratic systems.
Countries that abide with original democracy hardly come across with the question of political prisoners.
In Iran, dissidents and political critics are persecuted for their political beliefs and are detained and imprisoned.
The regime has invented ways to pin down its opposition;
There is a unique term used in Iran, known as “creating fear and instability in public opinion.” I know that this term is some how alien to you, but this invented charge, when aimed at someone means that, the person has created chaos in other people’s minds, while he is expressing his opinion.
He is therefore arrested and chucked into a prison cell, as simple as this.
We come cross another common charge against dissidents known as “advertising against the system.”
Hundreds of prisoners are accused of this vague charge; these may include those who have either converted from Islam to Christianity or the Baha’I religion.
I personally know one such person; his name is Hamid Pourzand, a military personnel, who was caught in a friendly picnic with a group of Christians in Karaj-city near the Capital. He was charged with apostasy. According to laws of the mullahs, any one charged with apostasy is automatically sentenced to death.
We can even find mullahs who criticize the regime, imprisoned for their opinions. Such is Ayatollah Boroojerdi. In his case, the special Clergy tribunal charged him with apostasy, and sentenced him and a few of his followers to death. He believed in the separation of state and religion.
Last year I was in the notorious section 209 of Evin prison on certain charges, and witnessed the kind of tortures inflicted on Ayatollah Boroojerdi and his followers by the interrogators – members of the Secret police.
300 women, who had taken part in the sit-in held in support of Mr.Boroojerdi, were tortured physically and mentally in section 209, alongside this, Mr.Boroojerdi also suffered a head hemorrhage.
You also asked about the political trends which exist in the Iranian prisons; they include a variety with different political tendencies.
Of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, have many of its supporters and members in the notorious 209 section of Evin prison. One of them was Saiid Masoori who has been in prison for at least 3 years now.
I was in the same cell with him in 2003. He was separated from his friends and kept in a different place as a tactic used by the secret police to exhaust the spirit of the prisoner.
There are other political prisoners in Evin, who are accused of spying for countries such as Israel, the US and some other western countries. They are kept in the security detention center 209 of the 325 section of the RGC.
We could also find a few other prisoners in Evin who are charged with leaking top secret information about the nuclear activities and programs of Iran. They include staff of the organizations working with the nuclear sites.
These prisoners’ whereabouts is usually kept secret from other inmates.
It must be hard to imagine seeing teachers and professors in these prisons, charged and accused, for having demanded for their civil rights, workers who had sought their unpaid wages defied economic policies of this regime.
Mansour Osanloo, one of the leaders of the Independent Syndicate of Bus Drivers in Tehran, who had protested disregard of the regime’s own Labor law, was imprisoned along with his colleagues, and put off work with no salary.
Mahmoud Salehi, a baker, who had participated in the workers rally on the 1st of May, in Saghez, was arrested and has been in prison since, while his kidneys have stopped functioning. He should be transferred to hospital for treatment, but this has been denied.
In Iran, lawyers defending various cases have also been imprisoned. Lawyers such as, Mrs. Solatni, and Nasser Zarafshan are such examples. Mr.Zarafshan has been representing families of terror victims killed by the Intelligence Ministry. He was charged for defending his clients, imprisoned for a couple of years and then released recently.
Student activists of the Polytechnic University in Tehran have been imprisoned in the security section 209 of the notorious Evin prison.
We have had news that they are being brutally tortured by Hadad so called “judge.” I know this judge in person, because he was my interrogator and quite known for his infamous brutality in prison.
These students have been arrested by the Intelligence ministry and charged for offending sacred values – meaning insulting Khamenie – in their publications.
Women defending equality are also in the prisons.
Recently 10 activists who had participated in a protest in front of the Central Revolutionary Court were arrested and transferred to the Evins’ 209 section. They were charged for trying to overthrow the regime. They were kept in small cells and deprived of their lawyers.
We have had news that some prisoners had died of mysterious circumstances, one death cause being a heart problem the other head injury, what do you have to say to the allegations accusing the Iranian authorities of being responsible for deaths in prisons?
In the past year, two political prisoners known as Akbar Mohammadi and Valiollah Feiz Mahdvi have died in Rajaii Shahr prison in Karaj city.
Akbar Mohammadi was a student and was arrested along with his brother in the landmark student demonstration of 1999 – in which the demonstration was violently suppressed and many students caught.
They were both sentenced to death, but later had parole for 15 years.
Akbar Mohammadi vas severely ill and needed treatment at the time. He began a hunger strike to protest against inhuman treatment towards his cell mates, and being already ill he managed to continue his protest for only 10 days. On the 10th day his health had deteriorated and was transferred to the prison clinic. In the clinic one official was quoted to have told him that “even if you suffer to death like an animal, we will do nothing for you.” Unfortunately having been rejected help, he was returned to his cell. He died later on.
Vliollah Feiz Mahdavi, also began a hunger strike in protest his situation.
His demands were; to see his lawyer, to be transferred from Rajaii Sharh Prison in order to have his case clarified. This was because he had already received a death sentence and this classified him as a political prisoner, where he was being tormented and mixed with criminal cases. But his demands were never met by the Judiciary.
Prison officials declared that they had transferred Valiollha to the hospital and he died in the hospital. They also tried to show that Valiollah had killed himself in the bathroom, an impossible task to achieve in Iranian prisons. His cell mates had denied these accusations saying that he had been on hunger strike and never had the intuition to commit suicide.
It is irrefutable that the Iranian regime and its officials in prison are responsible for the death of these 2 political prisoners.
Could you please tell us your view on the recent demonstrations in Iran?
These demonstrations depict radicalism in the Iranian society, a show of defiance to all restrictions. It is a confrontation to suppression.
In a town center in Mashahd, youth clashed with forces who wanted to arrest a woman for not tolerating the dress code. The Iranian society is very angry. It is frustrated by suppression and dictatorship. They are fed up of wrong policies of Ahmadinejad’s government, of its role in creating crisis in the world, and also of wrong political stance taken on the nuclear issue.
The sanctions are playing effect already and the Iranian people are paying the price for it.
The common factor in all protests so far have been a collective defiance towards Ahmadinejad’s wrong policies. A show of frustration was displayed by Polytechnic university students, who set his photo on fire, in a protest in his presence,
Today the protests are widespread and include all walks of life.
For example, the women’s movement is now engaged in a petition campaign collecting a million signatures for the equality of men and women demanding the nullification of misogynistic laws in Iran. Last year, on June 18, the women’s movement arranged a gathering in a square in Tehran, chanting for their demands. Students also joined the act.
Iranian women are very courageous, they know that their wishes represent millions of unheard voices and they would never recede from their demand. Their act was of course suppressed violently and many were sent into prisons. Even then they arranged for more protests, the last being in front of the “revolutionary” court – on 2 June 2006 – accompanying their friends who were going to be on trial in the court that day.
That day they had gathered to protest the trial of their friends. This is a civic resistance.
We can see civic resistance as peaceful and gentle acts of protests, which is not acceptable by the regime at all. The intelligence ministry has accused the women activists of trying to bring about a “velvet revolution” – a term used to describe reformed change from within the regime. I believe it is their right to call for their basic rights in a peaceful manner.
Are there any links between these demonstrations? Is there any radical change in line do you think?
I explained in the previous question that there have been connections, still to be reinforced, and these demonstrations are not yet programmed or organized. They are more self proclaimed.
The women’s movement is a different case. They have carried their campaign in a more grass root level, contacting NGOs and vesting villages, starting a public library, creating workshops for women in different areas alerting them to their rights.
In the demonstration of women two years go, known activists such as Simin Behbahani, also took part in front of Tehran University, which the police had suppressed violently and many were arrested.
Finally, I should reiterate that the student movements support other movements and has been active in reunifying other movements such as the workers and women’s, but there is a need for deeper and more reliable relationship.