Iranian journalist and cleric Mohammad Javad Akbarin was detained following the publication of articles in several journals. IranWire asked him about his arrest and what it was like to be interrogated, and about how Mohammad Javad Zarif’s recent claims applied to his own experiences.
After I was summoned to a tribunal in summer of 2000 for the first time, the interrogations began, leading to my imprisonment.
I was detained and then prosecuted specifically for writing four articles in journals. My prosecutions followed the Berlin Conference [a group of Iranian exiles disrupt the conference, which was about reform in Iran]; the regime was angry about Iranians attending it. Not all of the attendees had returned to the country yet. Judge Ghazi Moghaddas — who has since passed away — interviewed the detainees at the court hearing and swore at them. He described Mr Yousefi Eshkevari as a fake cleric and that, because of this, he should be prosecuted. In an article entitled “Polluted judgment”, which was published in Bahar newspaper (which was subsequently shut down), I wrote that when a judge calls a defendant “fake cleric,” it is obvious that he has issued the verdict before the court hearing. The verdict is already there and this is what pollutes our judiciary system. Six months of my one-year prison sentence was because of this article.
In one interrogation, I talked about legitimacy and acceptability. The interrogator pointed to my article in Sobh-e Emruz newspaper, in which I asked what the basis was for the legitimacy of the ruling power: God’s order or the people’s vote? We went on discussing the issue. I pointed to the fact that carrying out a discussion about a theoretical matter in an interrogation is an obvious example of inquisition. You can only claim that nobody is prosecuted for his beliefs when this discussion is held outside a court and in conferences and seminars and journals. When you detain me and put me in the defendant’s seat and ask me why I have said that the legitimacy of the ruling power comes from the people’s vote, this is exact definition of being prosecuted for holding a belief!
The process of interrogation and the court hearings and the appeal court lasted until Farvardin 1380 [April 2001]. During this period, and while I was freed on bail, I wrote an article for Bahar newspaper entitled “Views and Courts”. I described how “views” are taken to “court” and how someone is prosecuted because of holding certain beliefs, exactly like what happened during the inquisitions of the Middle Ages.
I was not surprised by Mr Zarif’s remarks saying that in Iran nobody is imprisoned because of having certain beliefs; I am quite familiar with it. The story still goes on: raw between politics and laws. As for my personal experience in this regard, I must say that my trial was a comedy trial. I was not allowed to choose a lawyer and none of the justice procedures mentioned in the press charges regulations were observed. I asked them: why is there no jury if I have been charged with press violations? Why the court is not public? The judge said, “No! Your charges are not of a press nature! You are accused of acting against national security by using your pen, exactly like when a charlatan publishes an advertisement about a fake company and robs the people. Can we say that because his ad was published in a newspaper, it is a press charge?”
I was angry when I heard this comparison and said: Journalism has a definition; each column you read in a newspaper has a definition. This is why the law has distinguished between press charges and other sorts of crimes, such as fraud. And just to prevent people like you from making irrelevant comparisons, the law says a jury must be present and the court must be public, so that the people can judge and you will be prevented from suppressing freedom of expression indefinitely.
You can read other letters by Iranian journalists here:
Fariba Davoodi Mohajer