Journalist Fereshteh Ghazi was arrested in 2004 in connection with her journalism. Recalling her own experience of detention, she has written numerous articles about prisoners of conscience in Iran. She has been the voice of many imprisoned journalists, and has interviewed several of them while they have been on leave from prison. Below is her response to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who told PBS interviewer Charlie Rose on April 29 that there are no prisoners of conscience in Iran.
Mohammad Javad Zarif’s claims in the interview with PBS were neither fair nor diplomatic. They contained no sign of wisdom or intelligence in diplomacy. His lies make him responsible for all of the human rights issues in the Islamic Republic.
The foreign minister, who is also the head of Iran’s nuclear negotiating team, has not improvised his false claims. Every time he travels to New York, he is well aware of the possibility that he will be asked about human rights.
In the interview, Zarif consciously and knowingly lied. He has provoked a wave of dissatisfaction and criticism.
By doing so, he has placed himself in a position to justify or explain his lies, and has been forced to mention the imprisoned Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, who authorities have held for 9 months without trial or conviction.
Zarif was not smart enough to use his colleagues’ justification about the independence of Iran’s judiciary. Instead, he repeated the lies spoken by former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the secretary of Iran’s human rights council, Mohammad Javad Larijani, in their interviews with international media.
I do not hold Zarif solely responsible for his lies. He represents a government whose main promise was to free political prisoners, and to release political leaders under house arrest. Yet only one year after coming to power he said, “I don’t think anyone has been arrested because of his or her journalistic or media activities.”
A government that was elected with the agenda of relaxing the securitized atmosphere in Iran has deprived the journalists Rayhane Tabatabaii, Mahsa Amrabadi, Marzieh Rasouli, and many others, of their right to work.
This government has downgraded the role of President Hassan Rouhani to that of a foreign minister, as if his office had no relation to Iran’s internal affairs, except to deny facts.
Hearing Zarif’s claims sent me back to the interrogator’s room in the underground detention center in Ketabi Street in Tehran, where the printouts of my reportage and interviews became proof of my “crime.”
It sent me back even further to the 1960s, when so many political prisoners were executed and buried in Khavaran cemetery, and all the prison cells were full of journalists, political and civil society activists, as well as the voices of mothers, fathers, children and spouses of imprisoned journalists and other political prisoners.
Today, journalists and activists are still deprived of their basic human rights, and are still behind the bars: Ahmad Zeyabadi, Massoud Bastani, Abdolfatah Soltani, Mohammad Seifzadeh, and Bahareh Hedayat are all political prisoners.
There are hundreds of others. If we don’t have any political prisoners or prisoners of conscience, then why did Rouhani promise to set them free when he was seeking power?
Hassan Rouhani’s task is not only to advance a nuclear deal. His main duty is to monitor the correct implementation of the Constitution. He must notify all other authorities in the country when they deviate from it. This is the least he can do for Iran’s hundreds of political prisoners.
Seen from this angle, the performance of Rouhani’s government is grim. Whether it is President Rouhani himself, or Mohammad Javad Zarif sitting in front of international media, the administration’s only approach is to deny.