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Interviews : Nima Rashedan

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Interviewed May 2011

Nima Rashedan was among the first Iranian cyber-activists. Born in Tehran in 1974, his father was a leftist opponent of the government headed by the Shah, so the family was forced into exile in the United States but returned to Iran after the 1979 revolution.

Upon his return, Rashedan became a member of student organizations and worked as a journalist, becoming one of the first writers to publish articles in Farsi on the Internet. In the late 1990s, after the election of President Khatami, he began writing pro-democracy articles.

In 1998, Rashedan was arrested and served time in prison, including a month in solitary confinement. After his release, Rashedan immigrated to Switzerland. He now lives in the Czech Republic and continues his work as a cyber-journalist and advocate. A frequent focus of his work is the similarity between the methods and objectives of the current Iranian regime and those of the former Soviet Union. 

I think there was a positive sentiment among [Iranian] protestors, especially toward [French President Nicolas] Sarkozy and Mr. [Bernard] Kouchner, at the time, Foreign Minister of France, which publicly defended Iran in public; they said, "We do not recognize this election as an accurate election. We do not recognize the [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad government." That was exactly what people wanted to hear from Obama.

And imagine the resources Mr. Obama has – the amount of influence Mr. Obama had at that time on the international community was far more than Sarkozy. So, it would have been a morale boost to the Iranian public – it would have changed the course of history if he just said, just a simple word, "We do not recognize this election." But he wouldn’t come with that because he wanted to talk to Ahmadinejad.

When you’re planning to talk to someone, you have to recognize that he came out of the ballot. But unfortunately for Mr. Obama and the Iranian public they both had different opinions: one, we’re dying on the streets of Tehran; and one, they’re trying to have their negotiations with Mr. Ahmadinejad going on. And I don’t think this negotiation ever went anywhere. I don´t think negotiations brought anything; it just gave some sort of morale boost to Ahmadinejad, to torture, kill, arrest more people – people who were very hopeful in Mr. Obama’s election.

I think Great Britain played a very positive role. People were especially thankful because of the BBC Persian channel; that became one of the most popular news coverage of the protest in Iran – especially after [Ayatollah] Khamenei said, "Now, the U.K., England and Great Britain is even more dangerous foe than United States." So, America was the greatest evil. They said, "No, now the U.K., with this Persian news channel, they are the biggest evil – more than Americans this time." So, that makes people publicly support.

People were very critical about China and Russia, in particular, for the first time; I can’t remember an occasion in our history when somebody chanted, "Down with China," in the streets of any country. But ten thousands of people, they were chanting, "Down with China and down with Russia," in Tehran, answering the slogan of the government who asked them to say, "Down with United States, down with USA." They would answer, "Down with China, down with Russia."

So, I’m wondering how these simple but very, very individual citizens of Tehran, how they had this whole amount of information about the world, the structure of international relations, of the balance of power in the security council. They were just seeing Mr. Obama as somebody who basically, represented the United States of America, which they love. But they couldn’t understand where he was trying to go; but then the European Union invested as an ally. And Russia and China and then Venezuela and Belarus – the other governments who are assisting the government of Islamic Republic to suppress the protestors as enemies. I think there was a whole sort of the discourse of, let’s say, a Green Movement-international relations discourse going on within protestors. 

Iran is a Middle Eastern nation with a population of just over 77 million. Iran’s population is predominately Persian, and Persian is the official language. The Shia branch of Islam is the official state religion, and approximately 90-95 percent of the population belongs to the faith. The second-largest nation in the region, Iran contains some of the world’s largest oil and gas reserves. The energy industry makes up a large portion of Iran’s economy, and the nation is one of the founding members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

The Islamic Republic of Iran is the world's only remaining theocratic state, in which political leadership is vested in religious authorities. The Islamic Republic was created in 1979 following a revolution against the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. Although many elements of Iranian society led the revolution, ultimately Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his followers gained control of the country. In December 1979, the country adopted an Islamic constitution providing that “all civil, criminal, financial, economic, administrative, cultural, military, political and all other statutes and regulations be in keeping with Islamic [law].”

Following adoption of the new constitution, Khomeini became the “Supreme Leader,” the ultimate political and religious authority in the country. Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Hoseyni Khamenei has been Supreme Leader since Khomeini’s death in 1989. The Supreme Leader is selected by a body of Islamic scholars called the Assembly of Experts. The Supreme Leader is responsible for the military and security concerns of Iran and has the final say on all issues. The president of Iran, who is elected by the public from a list approved by the Guardian Council (a body comprised of clerics and jurists), is nominally responsible for administration of the executive branch and is subject to the authority of the Supreme Leader.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president in 2005. Ahmadinejad was viewed as an ultraconservative and his views a stark contrast from the relatively reformist policies of his predecessor, President Mohammad Khatami. Despite promises of equality and fighting corruption, Ahmadinejad and his administration cracked down on civil liberties and more strictly enforced religious-based morality laws.

Ahmadinejad was reelected in 2009 in an election widely viewed as fraudulent. Following the June 2009 election, hundreds of thousands of Iranians took to the streets in the largest protests in the country since 1979, which came to be known as the “Green Revolution.” The government responded to the peaceful protestors with a massive campaign of intimidation, violence, and limits on freedoms. Universities were closed down, media outlets and internet resources censored, and rights to assembly restricted.

In June 2013, Hassan Rouhani was elected President and replaced Ahmadinejad. Rouhani has a reputation as a relatively moderate reformer and has promised additional freedoms and rights. It remains to be seen whether or not these promises will be fulfilled.

According to Freedom House, Iran is one of the least-free countries in the world. In its most recent report, Iran received a score of six in both the political rights and civil liberties categories, where one represents most free and seven represents least free. Iran has been the subject of numerous resolutions at the United Nations condemning the country’s human rights record. Among other things, the government uses summary arrest and execution against its political opponents. The death penalty is applied even for nonviolent crimes, including adultery. Radio and television broadcasting are under the control of the government and provide only government-approved content. Women are denied equal rights in marriage and other areas.

More from Nima Rashedan

Nima Rashedan: International Response On the international response to the Green Movement. Nima Rashedan: Iranian Women On conditions for women in Iran and the role of women in leading the pro-democracy movement. Nima Rashedan: Unraveling Iran On efforts to divide the Iranian regime from its supporters. More + Nima Rashedan: Snowball Effect of Reform On lessons from Eastern Europe for the democracy movement in Iran. Nima Rashedan: Effect of Free Radio On the impact of foreign news services in Iran. Nima Rashedan: Ideas in Solitary Confinement On his time in solitary confinement. Nima Rashedan: Freedom of Press On restrictions on free speech in Iran. Nima Rashedan: Physical and Digital Revolution Describing the beginning of the cyberdissident movement in Iran. Nima Rashedan: Supporting Sanctions In support of sanctions against the Iranian government. Nima Rashedan: U.S. Response Criticizing the U.S. response to protests in Iran. Nima Rashedan: Standing Against History Describing the efforts of Iranians to connect to the Internet. Nima Rashedan: Time as an Ally “Nobody, nobody really can silence us because the technology and time is in our side.” Nima Rashedan: War on Media “It was a kind of war on media.” Nima Rashedan: United Nations On the role of the United Nations in supporting Iranian dissidents. Nima Rashedan: Andrei Sakharov On Andrei Sakharov