Blogging to change Iran - East Valley Tribune: News

Blogging to change Iran

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Posted: Thursday, November 17, 2005 7:07 pm | Updated: 8:04 am, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

In the U.S., spouting off about government misdeeds in your blog will get you, at worst, a heated debate in your comments section.

In Iran, it got Omid Memarian tortured, and earned him 55 days solitary confinement in a prison cell. A tiny concrete cell -- "like a grave," he says.

asap talked to Memarian to get his perspective on the current power struggle in his home country.

But first, his story: The 31-year-old Tehran native reported for independent and reformist newspapers like Hayateno before being pushed to the Web four years ago by a government media crackdown.

His blog -- found at Memarian -- was among the first online destinations in Farsi for reformist news and criticism. Blending comment with politics, he drew a rising number of hits, along with growing attention from suspicious officials.

But he was restless, and early last year he planned to travel to the United States to study. He made it to the airport in Frankfurt, Germany, but was turned away because his name was on the U.S. no-fly list. Back to work in Iran.

In October 2004, agents arrested Memarian at his office and took him to a home in the center of Tehran that had been converted into a prison. He says he was held alone in a concrete room no larger than 4 by 7 feet. Other bloggers were being held in separate rooms; like him, they were interrogated for hours on end. He says he was tortured by his captors.

"Sometimes I could hear what was happening with the other journalists: shouting, screaming," he said. "They interrogated from 6 in the morning to 12 at night. Talking about 'Who are the people who are radicals and are guiding us to criticize the Islamic regime?' But there was no one behind us. We were independent, no relationship with the political parties. Just journalists."

Memarian was released last December -- 55 days later -- after making a forced confession. A week later, he and several other bloggers renounced their words, and he's spoken out repeatedly since.

"The society was shocked at what they heard," he said. "It was the first time they forced a young journalist to do that."

Memarian left Iran four months ago and has been studying and lecturing at University of California, Berkeley. Advocacy and research group Human Rights Watch picked him as one of three human rights defenders to honor at its annual dinners this year.

Despite the possibility he could be captured again, Memarian will eventually return to Iran to keep up his blog.

"I love my country," he said. "We can be more effective inside than outside."

___

Here's his take on the current state of his home country. The background: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who took office in August, has taken a much more hard-line tack than many expected, including saying that Israel should be "wiped off the map." Supreme Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has apparently tried to rein in the president, taking steps that include strengthening the powers of Expediency Council chief Hashemi Rafsanjani, who Ahmadinejad defeated in June's elections.

In Memarian's words:

POWER STRUGGLE: "What's going on in the political atmosphere is shocking. The hard-liners have captured the power, they're governing the society in a way that everybody's suspicious. ... It's not surprising that it's getting worse and worse. There's a big power struggle between the conservatives. The new president is just a part of this. The traditional conservatives are realigning themselves."

THE PRESIDENT: "He didn't pay attention to the advice of the parliament. What he's doing, you can see that it's a confrontation between the conservatives. The conservative camp is so strong, and you can see the Expediency Council are going to monitor the president."

FORMER PRESIDENT'S NEW ROLE: "Rafsanjani has talked about the issue directly, saying society doesn't need radicalism in both ways. He's head of the Expediency Council, and loser of the election. This is the first time in the history of the nation that someone who lost the election is monitoring the winner, and is getting more powerful than the winner. The mechanism is not good, because it's not stable. However, controlling the mad guy in any way is a good thing."

PARLIAMENTARY REVOLT? "In the last few days, the minority faction, they've talked about impeaching the president. This is the first time since the revolution that they've talked about impeaching the president. And some conservatives are silent about that."

____

Ryan Pearson is an asap staff reporter based in Los Angeles.

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