Jila Baniyaghoob’s Open Letter to Mohammad Javad Larijani

“Mr Larijani, prove that I was in prison for violence and destruction, and I will spend all my life in Evin prison.”

Mr. Mohammad Javad Larijani Head of the Judiciary’s Human Rights Headquarters,

I watched and read Ms. Christiane Amanpour’s interview with you. I read your comments on the imprisoned journalists many times, and each time, I was surprised more than before. You may be completely unaware of the records of the imprisoned journalists. Or maybe you are aware but prefer to present your preferred version of the facts.

In the interview, Christiane Amanpour tells you that more than 90 journalists are in prison in Iran today, the highest number of imprisoned journalists in the world, and then asks you why this has happened. You said the reason for their imprisonment was not because they protested, but because of the violence and damage they inflicted on people’s properties.

Christiane Amanpour asked you whether journalists have been imprisoned simply for having been present on the streets to observe what was happening. You said, “No reporter or journalist has been imprisoned for journalism. But if a journalist has been advocating violence, he/she has been prosecuted by the judiciary.”

I am writing you to inform you where the records of myself, my spouse, and several other colleagues of mine can be found. Please go to the Revolutionary Court branch 26 on Shariati Avenue and also pay a visit to the same court’s branch 15. You are the head of the judiciary’s human rights headquarters. The respectable judges in those branches are sure to make our records available to you.

Please leaf through the records of my spouse, Bahman Amhadi-Amouie. See if and when he ever destroyed public property. Also have a look at Massoud Bastani’s record in branch 15. Also, don’t forget the records of Saied Laylaz and Ahmad Zeidabadi. Visit Evin prison’s 3rd interrogation branch and ask for Shiva Nazar Ahari’s record. Which one of these people has resorted to violence or destroyed public property? These are not the only journalists who have been imprisoned for their professional activities.

If you have the time, take a look also at my record, for I was in prison for sixty days and now I am awaiting my trial. I don’t know where my record is, but it should not be difficult to find. If you find the slightest evidence that I have resorted to destruction or violence, or even advocated violence, I will voluntarily spend the rest of my life in Evin prison.

One of the interrogators in charge of my file once spoke to me and condemned the destruction that had taken place on the streets. I responded that I too condemned the destruction, but asked the interrogator if he meant that I or my spouse was in prison for involvement in the destruction. The interrogator who, unlike many other interrogators at Evin’s ward 209 [where political prisoners are held], always had a cheerful and smiling face, and compared to some of his colleagues, was also fairly polite. He laughed and said, “No, I didn’t mean that. You and your husband are not competent enough to set fire to anything or destroy it.”

I said, “Thank God that we’re not competent enough to do such things.”

All the charges in Bahman Ahmadi-Amouie’s records have to do with his profession as a journalist. You have said that no journalist has been imprisoned because of attending a gathering. One of the most important charges against me and my spouse is that we attended a few gatherings as reporters, carrying our professional IDs and assignment letters from newspapers where we worked.

Now, Bahman has been sentenced to jail for, in Christiane Amanpour’s words, “watching the gatherings.” The other charge against my spouse is “conspiracy against national security”, based on his position as editor of Khordad-e Now website. The website was shut down days after the [June 2010 presidential] election.

You see? Every page of his record has something to do with his profession as a journalist.

I do not know about judicial matters as much as you do, but I have learned enough to know that “conspiracy” requires secret activities, and I cannot understand how one can engage in secret activities through journalism and publishing material on an internet site. Is there anything as public as journalism? How could open work in the media be construed as conspiracy and secret activity against national security?

Now, if you still have the time and patience, please leaf through my spouse’s folder. Some “moral evidence” of “conspiracy against national security” was charged against him. Do you know what evidence has been cited to support that charge? His contribution to “extremist” newspapers such as Nowrouz, Yas-e Now, and Khordad. Those were also journalistic activities; weren’t they? I cannot understand how contribution to newspapers that were published ten to twelve years ago, with the government’s permission, can be considered criminal evidence against my spouse in 2009.

Please be patient and leaf through his record a little bit more. Another piece of “moral evidence” presented to prove the charge of “conspiracy” against Bahman Ahmadi-Amouie is that in July 1999, he was briefly present at the University of Tehran dormitory [where there was a clash between security forces and student protesters]as a reporter. His reports were published in the newspaper where he worked at the time. Could this be taken as “moral evidence” of “conspiracy against national security” in June 2009?

There are also other charges against Bahman Ahmadi-Amouie: his critical articles about the ninth administration [led by Mr. Ahmadinejad], written within the framework of the constitution, have been described as “insults against the president.” The critical articles have now led to an imprisonment and lashing sentence.

Mr Larijani, around seventy journalists are now in the prisons of the Islamic Republic, and many others, like me, are free on bail, lacking any security. We are afraid that anything that we write may be used as evidence of “propaganda against the system” or “conspiracy against national security.” My colleagues and I try to write as little as possible.

When I showed this open letter to several colleagues before its publication, they all warned me against publishing it. They said, “Because of this letter, you might end up back in prison. You might end up with a bigger record in court and a longer prison sentence.”

In spite of all that, Mr Larijani, I have decided to publish this letter, because I still hope that if my voice reaches you, you will pause for a moment, only for a moment, and try to restore the rights of my colleagues.

I still have a little hope left. I hope that you may be saddened by the fact we [Iranians] have broken the world record of jailed journalists, in front of China that has a population of more than a billion.


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