Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Iranian Activists: Problem is Oppressive Government

Coinciding with Ahmadinejad's Visit to New York - 2008.09.23

Rooz Exclusive - Ahmad Batebi

Coinciding with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit to New York, on Monday the Human Rights Watch office in New York held a press conference at a hotel across the street from the United Nations building with reporters from various major media networks in attendance.

In this meeting Akbar Ganji, Mehrangiz Kar, Hadi Ghaemi and Minky Worden, Media Director of Human Rights Watch, responded to reporters' questions about human rights conditions in Iran.

Mehrangiz Kar opened the meeting by providing a report on current human rights conditions in Iran, focusing particularly on the women's rights movement's achievements and vulnerabilities.

Akbar Ganji then shared his concerns and those of other human rights activists regarding the Western world's policies and announced, "We speak as human rights activists and our issues are different from those of Western governments. These governments are concerned with nuclear energy and enrichment suspension, whereas our problem is widespread human rights violations and confrontation with an oppressive government."

Ganji added, "Human rights and democracy are not important for these governments. Proofs of my words are the treatments of governments of North Korea and Libya. Colonel Qaddafi suspended his country’s nuclear energy project and then nothing more was said about human rights violations in Libya. We are concerned about a similar agreement between the governments of Iran and the United States. The two governments are negotiating behind closed doors, and although negotiations are good and we defend them, they must be publicly held."

A New York Times reporter asked Ganji about the Iranian people's unwillingness to act to change present conditions.

Responding to the question, Ganji noted, "In addition to numerous economic problems, the Iranian people also lack freedom and the government is trying to limit the scope of problems to economic problems. In our view, an authoritarian government is the source of all problems including economic problems and when there is no freedom no one can discern the source of the problem. In Iran, billions of dollars of oil revenues are spent on unknown projects and if people ask questions about them they will be suppressed. Our problem is the Supreme Leader's dictatorship. The Western world takes Ahmadinejad seriously, even though he is not an important player. In essence, he is the head of Supreme Leader's office and is considered to be the person who implements the Supreme Leader's orders."

A BBC reporter interrupted at this point, asking, "What is responsible for suppression of civil society activists: the administration or the regime structure?"

Mehrangiz Kar responded, "I do not think it is Ahmadinejad’s administration or its Intelligence Ministry that is suppressing civil society or women's rights activists. In the early years after the revolution the Iranian regime eliminated, in the name of Islam, everything that women had achieved in the years before the 1979 revolution. It was only during the reform era and Mr. Khatami's administration that non-governmental organizations became active and the present administration opposes them."

Ms. Kar added, "Women are not equal to men. Women must not ask for too much, they must not speak, according to the regime. This is the radical, religious policy-making of the Iranian regime."

The BBC reporter then asked Mr. Ganji, "Do you hold the supreme leader responsible or the president?"

Ganji responded, "In Iran, the supreme leader resides atop of an undemocratic structure. He governs like a sultan. Ahmadinejad has been in power for three years but even if someone other than him had been elected that person would have implemented the supreme leader's orders as much. The supreme leader has nourished this creature in its bosom and, hence, our problem is the undemocratic, sultanic structure of the reigime."

The Voice of America reporter asked, "If Ahmadinejad is effectively not responsible, then what is the use for asking him questions?"

Ganji responded, "Questioning Ahmadinejad means questioning the president, because he defends the Supreme Leader's positions. Mr. Khamenei has repeatedly claimed that this is the best administration that has been in power in Iran. If the president says something that seems to be irrational to us, it seems to be completely rational to the supreme leader. Every action that is taken in Iran has two aspects, a positive aspect and a negative aspect. If it is positive, it is credited to the supreme leader, and if it isnegative, it is blamed on the president. Ahmadinejad too plays this role very well. This is not a secret. For example, during the 33-day war in Lebanon Mr. Larijani announced that this war was fully commanded by Mr. Khamenei."

Mehrangiz Kar then responded to another reporter's questions regarding differences between Iran and neighboring countries: "Our conditions with respect to social development are much better than neighboring countries, because we have been in contact with modernity for 150 years now. Currently, we have a lot of potential for action Iran. For instance, there is currently an underground movement in Saudi Arabia to legalize driving for women, whereas we had that right ever since the introduction of automobiles to Iran."

Photographs by: Ahmad Batebi

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