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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 we are the luckiest human beings ever because when you think of my Andrei Sakharov example, for getting out a single statement on the paper, they spent seven months just to take a piece of paper to, you know, to put it somewhere and really hide it from the KGB, and then bring it in Italy, and then smuggle it to France, and then give it clandestinely to somebody in France, and then publish.

Or for example, for Khrushchev’s famous criticizing statement on the Soviet Union, it took the media in the world one year to know the content of the Khrushchev speech. We are living and we were born in the time that, with the help of technology, with the help of the Internet, nothing can be hidden.

Things which are happening in the street of Cairo or Tehran, no matter, are being filmed and streamed simultaneously. So, I think we are lucky; I think we have it much easier. On the other hand, yes, these facilities also allow our opponents, the suppressing regimes, to have their five-cent cyber army to come and post, you know, comments in the website: Western website, Persian website. They are also doing that.

But nobody, nobody really can silence us because the technology and time is in our side. I think it’s a very good time to be a democratic activist. I think you’ve got it all; and just be the movement and I hope these struggles between totalitarianism and democracy is once forever ended, and the spirit of democracy all around the world; and then we can work on more issues like, you know, the quality of life of people, the quality of the race issue, the religion issue in different countries after, you know, the winning struggle of totalitarian regime who are just standing against people and shooting and killing people, like in Iran and Syria, just because they have different opinions. 

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 on this theme from Nima Rashedan

Nima Rashedan: Time as an Ally “Nobody, nobody really can silence us because the technology and time is in our side.”