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People have a right to know about the detained Iranian-American Siamak Namazi

November 2, 2015
Mehrangiz Kar
6 min read
People have a right to know about the detained Iranian-American Siamak Namazi

With the recent arrest of an Iranian-American, authorities have added another chapter to the long history of silencing dissent through accusations of crimes against national security. But, asks Mehrangiz Kar, is a media blackout really the best way of protecting him?

In Iran, political prisoners are often forced to defend themselves against charges of being a threat to national security. The Islamic Republic’s judicial authorities, supported by national security laws, strip these defendants of social dignity, but also deny them an open trial with a jury — at the same time escaping accountability.

All over the world, everyone hates “spies” — those citizens who collaborate with another government against the territorial integrity and the interests of his own country. But a “political defendant,” on the other hand, they treat with respect, even if they do not agree with his politics. Since the Islamic Revolution,  because of the way Iran’s judiciary and the country’s security policies have been set out, any protester or citizen who in one way or another shares his dissatisfaction with others, or tries to change policies detrimental to the people through speaking or writing, is deemed to be potentially guilty of national security crimes. Such a defendant is threatened with a range of charges, including “spying”, “activities against national security”, “insulting the sacred”, “propaganda against the regime” and, lastly, “corruption on earth” and “waging war against God”.

Throughout the history of the Islamic Republic, elite members of any school of thought have been the targets of such accusations. As a result, they have lost their freedom, their property, or even their lives. Religious authorities paved the road to this reality when they said there was no such thing as political crimes in Islam, and when they insisted that, before the establishment of the Islamic regime, opposing the government had been a religious duty — but that after the government became Islamic, opposing it amounted to heresy.

But all of this aside, a political defendant has characteristics that make the public care about his fate, regardless of his politics. They are follows:

  • He does not act for personal gain.
  • His civil activities or battles are aimed at bettering people’s lives.
  • He does not take up arms.
  • At the minimum, he believes that reforms are necessary to improve the situation, and acts as a reformer.
  • At the maximum, he believes in changing the system through peaceful means.

Therefore, when a citizen is in the dock for such activities, it means that the existing political system is unstable, even if it has defined what “political crimes” are and declares the citizen to be a “political defendant”. In stable systems, such activities are not crimes, and are not liable to be treated as crimes, be it security  crimes or political offences.


Terrorizing Critics

If we keep this in mind, it becomes easier to assess Iran’s judiciary and national security policies, which both use any ploy at their disposal to categorize activities by a well-meaning citizen as “public crimes” and associate them with threats to  “security,” and even “forbidden” or “sexual” attributes. Such a regime feels fundamentally insecure and intends to terrorize critics and objectors. In this system, arbitrary arrests have become “judicially routine,” so much so that the Judicial Disciplinary Court does not protest against this practice, even for the sake of putting on a show.

Because the judiciary, the security services and military forces have all become closely connected, especially following the crisis that emerged after the 2009 presidential election, critics of the regime have been left with no room to debate or discuss. Dissent is not tolerated. Iranians who have, in their own way — not necessarily in the style of reformists — tried to convince the regime to accept some reforms in the economic sector, in foreign policy, in improving relations between Iranian and American people, in human rights, and so on, have also been blocked and prevented from having their voices heard.

What terrifies the judiciary-security apparatus in the Islamic Republic is the necessity of open courts, of the right to a lawyer’s presence from the moment that the defendant is summoned until the end of the investigation, and of the necessity of an independent jury made up of the public. The regime is so terrified, that for the past 36 years it has ignored Article 168 of its own constitution: “Political and press offenses will be tried openly and in the presence of a jury, in courts of justice. The manner of the selection of the jury, its powers, and the definition of political offenses, will be determined by law in accordance with the Islamic criteria.”

Even when it has indicated that it wants to observe this article, it has defined “political crime” in such a way that everyone has pleaded with them to forget about it.


The Wisdom of Independent Juries — and the Dangers of Media Blackouts

If we put all these factors together, we can see there is wisdom behind insisting on an independent jury. It not only protects a political defendant. it also helps the stability of the regime. By allowing for a jury that represents the public, the public is assured that it has been informed of the process, and that the prosecution of a defendant it respects has been fair. As a result, suspicions of and conflicts with the regime are reduced which, in turns, helps stability.

This also means that a political defendant does not belong only to his blood family. He is held in high esteem by a larger family, who would openly challenge the judiciary-security apparatus if it was not afraid of the consequences.

This raises a question: Can the relatives of a well-intentioned defendant who has acted to benefit his people and his country impose a news blackout on his arrest and his interrogation?

Here I am specifically referring to Siamak Namazi, whose arrest was first reported by IranWire, but without naming him. Since then, the media and activists have had to deal with a total news blackout because it is what his family wanted.

But political defendants belong to a much bigger family. They belong to a nation. This family does not want to remain in the dark about the conditions of those who have acted to better people’s lives, but who have angered the government because it does not like what they have been doing.

There are only two possible situations. Siamak Namazi is either free or under arrest. If he is free, then he would be living a normal life and people would not be receiving phishing emails from his account. If he is under house arrest, hiding this fact from the public, and especially from human rights activists, is completely counterproductive.

The bigger family of Siamak Namazi insists that it be told about his situation. A denial of this right is the denial of the right to know. We can have no doubt that when the Revolutionary Guards’ intelligence unit has obtained all the necessary confessions through mental and physical pressure and without the presence of a defense attorney, Judiciary Spokesman Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei will step forward proudly and feed the people a new tale that has no legal value and is purely political — identical to news stories published by the daily newspaper Kayhan.

It would appear that once again a young Iranian who loves Iran, who has not had any fundamental quarrels with the regime, has fallen victim to the financial and factional quarrels of the Islamic Republic, and has perhaps been charged with national security crimes. In any case, people have a right to know.


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