Laura Secor wrote of Iran’s recent silence in last month’s edition of The New Yorker:
The Iranian authorities had an interest in making this story disappear, and they have done a very effective job. They expelled all foreign reporters, imprisoned most active local ones (according to Reporters Without Borders, forty-one Iranian journalists have been imprisoned since June 12th), and let local stringers for foreign media organizations know that their options included prison, silence, and exile.
The inner circles of the opposition candidates, and the independent analysts and civil-society leaders who aggregate and interpret information for the press, are also in prison, or, at the very least, unable to communicate freely by e-mail or phone. Very few unofficial sources of information remain accessible — mainly anonymous, frightened informants on the ground.
So what does this mean on the streets of Iran? Have the protestors been silenced just as effectively as the press? Reports have surfaced this morning that Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who lost to Ahmadinejad in the controversial election, has asked his supporters to flood Tehran during a festival next week. The Los Angeles Times reports:
The call for new protests was the most provocative move in weeks by former Prime Minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi. It was a sign that the aging bureaucrat, once a pillar of the Islamic Republic’s political establishment, is growing into the role of leader of a youth-based movement that seeks greater democracy and better ties to the rest of the world.
Crikey continues our conversations with the anonymous Iranian refugee who speaks to his brother in Tehran on a regular basis. We initially spoke to AB at the start of July. Since we last spoke, the streets of Tehran have fallen silent. Crikey spoke to AB last night about the recent lull in Tehran, before reports had surfaced about Mousavi’s call to protest once more:
How is your brother feeling? Does he feel safe enough to contact you now?
They still can’t freely make a phone call out to anywhere overseas. As soon as they make a call out, especially to a recognised journalist or media, they receive a phone call from government, a recorded message, it says, “you have made a phone call to a foreign journalist, this is a warning that the next warning will be tougher.” As soon as they hang up, the message is waiting for them.
[The government] have been trying to … use scare tactics.
It has been working, especially those who called to foreign journalists and then suddenly they receive this phone call, it’s a bit shocking.
It happened to one of my brother’s friends who called BBC Persia in England and as soon as he [got off the phone] he got the recorded message.
Did this stop him from calling out?
He stopped calling from his home phone but it did not stop him from having any contact. Of course it made it a bit harder for him. He now has to go through more expensive channels to do so. Use coins on a public phone to call overseas which can be extremely expensive.
So it’s quietened down there?
When I’ve talked to my brother I’ve told him that it’s been quiet in the media, and I ask him, is that because people are afraid? He told me there is no leadership. If there is a leader coming up, to get them and organise them and do demonstrations, everyone will get up and do it. It’s not fear it’s more lack of leadership.
Where are the former leaders? Have they been effectively silenced?
The leaders are under house arrest, they are a bit more afraid to do anything else. They still can send messages around on websites. Some people say they are afraid and some people say they are just avoiding bloodshed.
They don’t want that on their head.
Some people reason that the ’79 revolution cost lots of life but then in the end we got what we wanted … They reckon Mousavi or whoever runs this show should do the same. Others say he’s using softer politics, diplomacy rather than risking lives…
So the movement is divided on this?
The views have been divided, but the interesting thing is Iranian politics won’t be the same anymore. It won’t be only a one-man show anymore. In politics, there is opposition and that’s helping iran towards democracy.
They’ve got the media attention they wanted, they have clearly said that Iranian people are not for Ahmadinejad. Whatever he says, he doesn’t represent Iranians and Iran. They’ve got that message out. And that was their aim; to say he is not our president, he does not talk for us.
Is your brother laying low at the moment?
My brother says if there is a leader that tells me to do it, to protest, I’ll go. If there is a lack of leadership then it will divide everyone.
My brother hasn’t seen any protests for the last week or so. Before that there was a few. At Friday prayers Rafsanjani came to speak — they hadn’t let him talk, so they gave him this opportunity to come to Friday prayers. This is one of the biggest customs in Islamic Iranian regime, and of course he openly said that there was a fraud and he bagged Mousavi…
It was the biggest turn out to Friday prayers [in years], all these young people turned out to see what he had to say.
That was the last major protest, there was violence. But after that we haven’t seen any violence.
Is your family still worried for your brother’s safety?
My family is feeling a bit better. They’ve arrested most of the activists now. My brother says they hang people in the jail every day.
How does he know that?
It’s on TV — [the government] broadcast it but not as a political act or protestors — they say they are drug dealers. They have killed at least up to 25 of them [accusing them of being] drug dealers, but [these people] haven’t been through courts or been charged or anything.
No one really knows how many they have captured and then how many they have released. When they are released they have to sign a paper to agree not to talk about it, not to talk about why they have been in prison, and why they have been released.
[The government] want them to keep quiet. Whatever they’ve been doing, it’s been working because we haven’t seen any of them speak out.
Is your brother keeping in touch with his fellow protestors?
My brother is keeping in touch with protestors, through Twitter mostly, and they are waiting to hear from the leader but in terms of doing anything they don’t want to jeopardise any situation now by going out or doing things that might be turned against them and Mousavi. They are very cautious — they know the government is watching them and don’t want anyone to be blamed.
Is there division amongst the protestors and the right way forward?
It’s more like [they] want to get out, [they] want to continue to protest but [they] want the right leadership.
The reason they want Mousavi to back them, … they don’t want the bloodshed to be on their hands. They want to get out but they know that Mousavi and his party has at least half the power … the government can’t say they are anti regime, and that they don’t want Islamic republic if they have Mousavi’s backing … as soon as they determine you are against the regime, they can kill you instantly. But by having Mousavi as back up, then they … are not [seen to be ] against the republic.
They don’t want to be seen as … unpatriotic … As soon as [the government] label them as unpatriotic and against the regime they can kill them easily.
The government tried to label them as terrorists, but it doesn’t work because they have the backing of Mousavi … they were key players in the revolution, he was the second most powerful player in this regime … He’s seen as legitimate.
So has life at university settled down?
You still see the scars of what the militia has done. In terms of computers and the library, it’s still [damaged] because they don’t have enough budget to rebuy all the computers.
Are the militia still visible on the street? Revolutionary guards?
Some are in uniform, they are still around. Just to warn people. But not as much as we saw in the riots, it has settled down, but behind the scenes, Mousavi’s fight and all those oppositions are still going on.
How important does your brother and his fellow protestors think it is for the Western media to keep focused on Iran?
They are very, very concerned that Western media do not let it go. They know media is the only thing governments are afraid of. If that YouTube footage didn’t get out, those reports, there would have been much more bloodshed…
What does your brother think of Obama’s approach?
My brother was criticising Obama’s approach, saying Bush would have talked much stronger, they wished he was still on power. They said if George Bush was still in power they might have had some results.
They resented Bush’s strong rhetoric [initially], but then they felt Obama didn’t back them as much as he should. By approaching Iran softly and very cautiously, they were disappointed.
From [the] Western way of looking at it, I agreed, but people in Iran did not want it. They wanted a direct attack on the administration, for the President to not give a damn [about diplomacy] and to really ram the rhetoric and to back them…
They felt … what’s the point of not being direct and aggressive against them?
They didn’t like Obama and the way he approached it.