I think the struggle for freedom and human rights in Iran – in the whole region, particularly in Iran – goes back for quite a long time. When I was born in 1974 my father was in prison because of writing some articles. At the time, he was a leftist activist and writer.
And as you can see, this struggle continues up to this. Right now, there are people in prison because of what they write; they express their opinions. So we had to go to exile during end of 1970s. We came to United States, to California. And then among other leftists, during the revolution of 1979, when it was the time of revolution, we got back to Iran because my father had – and a lot of leftist activists, they had – this utopia of now with the fall of Shah and ally of United States, they can create their utopia.
So, they were among the first victims. Ten thousands of leftist activist communists were massacred by [Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah] Khomeini as soon as he got to the power. So think that the whole country, the politics, was kind of suppressed for something like two decades. There was simply no way to express very basic of your opinions.
At the end of the 1990s, with election of President [Mohammad] Khatami, there was a very small, narrow window that people started to criticize the system. And there was free press. That time was the time of my politicization, and I became an activist and journalist. I was working with dozens of reformist papers, most of them have been shut down by Ayatollah [Ali] Khamenei, the supreme leader.
Journalists have been arrested; some of them have been killed; and a lot of others, they just left the country: they are living in the United States, in France. But there are a lot of activists of my generation still in Iran struggling, many of them in prison, facing jail terms up to 20 years, continuing their fight for freedom.
Well, I was never a free journalist, if you take this Western idea of free journalist into the context. But for Iran, which there was not even a word of criticizing just the whole establishment. If you can't criticize a school principal, this is kind of free journalist.
And this was just a very, very tiny, narrow window at the start; we all hoped that it would by the time, that it will grow up, grow more. But the system was so horrifying. I remember I was a technical student at the University of Tehran; I was studying computer software. At the same time, I was very interested in social science; I was very interesting in history, social anthropology, political sociology and stuff like that.
So I was going to the school to attend the classes for these subjects. And then, you know, mixing the computer and the whole digital era and the first – the very first – days of Internet in Iran, which at that time was not a threat for government because no one had any idea what is internet. When first it appeared, we were using some very basic equipment, like nine kilobyte modems, using phone lines. There was no World Wide Web; there was a BBS [Bulletin Board System] that people were connecting.
So I came with a friend of mine: his name is Mr. Achmir Musadi. He became later a member of parliament in the time of reform; he's living in Washington, D.C., right now. We got this idea that Khatami was first elected president. We connect him through the BBS to online Internet users. And I think that the whole number of users in whole Iran was something like 500 people.
But this idea later became the whole, you know, the current of this digitized reform movement in Iran; from this whole idea a lot of websites have been made, a lot of networks have been established. When I'm talking about that, this is five years before the first blog appeared – it's ten years before Twitter – it's fifteen years before Facebook – it's such a long time ago.
But I'm really proud of, you know, seeing the things at that time from this perspective. And I was thinking that the point of a totalitarian, paranoid regime is first to limit access of citizens, to free flow of information, to spread their own agenda, because they are totalitarian. And then about political paranoia – they need this kind of inaccurate, paranoid news coming and putting questions to everything.
So if you can establish channels if people access to the accurate news, then they can evaluate whether what government said, what statistic or what claims they make, is it true or not. And I got to this point, let's say, 20 years ago; and I still think this is the way to go. If you help people to have free access to Internet, to information, then the government – as it loses part of its legitimacy – will be collapsing, at least at the point of very, very insiders, people close the establishment.