Iranian journalist and human rights activist Masih Alinejad met with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday, February 5, a controversial move that was widely covered on social media.
After news of the meeting emerged, Alinejad, who launched the popular campaign My Stealthy Freedom, was praised and condemned in equal measure. “That corrupt and corrupting person who has been denounced by her own family has gone to Pompeo and has taken a photo with him — Pompeo who is himself inflaming the discord,” Mohammad Jafar Montazeri, Iran’s Attorney General, told a news conference on February 6. In a more cynical and scathing attack, the official newspaper Iran published a cartoon showing Pompeo pulling aside a white bridal veil from Alinejad’s face.
The US Department of State also published news of the meeting. “In the meeting today, the Secretary thanked Ms. Alinejad for her bravery and continued dedication to speaking out on these issues and defending human rights in Iran,” it announced in a statement. “The Secretary underscored the United States’ commitment to help amplify the voices of the Iranian people and to condemn the Iranian regime for its ongoing human rights abuses. The United States calls upon the international community to join us in condemning the Iranian regime for suppressing its own people.”
Masih Alinejad said that during her meeting with Pompeo she told him that Iranians do not want war, and they cannot support the Islamic Republic as it stands. She said she asked him to lift sanctions, which hurt ordinary people, and urged him to instead impose sanctions on the state-run radio and TV network, on the Revolutionary Guards and on torturers.
IranWire talked with Masih Alinejad about her meeting with the US Secretary of State, and about why the United States must listen to the voice of the Iranian people.
How did you feel about Iran’s Attorney General’s reaction to your meeting with Mike Pompeo?
The first thing that came to my mind was that these people are not angry at Masih Alinejad. They are angry at, and afraid of, the voice of ordinary citizens — we the common people — that has risen so high that it is now heard. It used to be that the Islamic Republic had a monopoly on the line of communication between us and the people of the world. It is the first time that they see that ordinary people, the same people who have grown up under this corrupt regime, have taken the path of dialogue and shout it out when human rights are violated. This is why the [officials] are angry.
This anger, of course, is not only directed at me. They are also angry at a worker whose voice has been heard. They torture him and force him to confess, even though this worker has never met a representative of a western government. They are angry both at a woman who removes her hijab to protest, and even at those who are part and parcel of the Islamic Republic regime and brand them as spies, people like Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi.
I believe this regime is on the brink of downfall and is scared, so it bashes ordinary citizens and wants to terrorize and silence them by branding them as spies, as corrupt and as pawns in the hands of western governments.
The language used by the attorney general is, of course, not specific to the officials of the Islamic Republic. Your critics, some of whom are even reformist-minded, used the same kind of rhetoric.
For 40 years the Islamic Republic has been busy creating little dictatorships in various parts of the society. In these 40 years, the rhetoric of the Islamic Republic has permeated parts of the regime’s body and this includes the reformists as well. In the cartoon published by the government newspaper Iran, Pompeo is removing a [piece of] white lace from my head. In their lexicon, women are still sexual objects that they either put a veil on, or remove a veil from their faces by force. They see an official meeting between a woman and a member of the government of a democratic country as a dirty and filthy sexual relationship.
This shows that we have a long way to go before we can make discourse, peace and human dignity the dominant theme. We must not allow the rhetoric of warmongers — the corrupt rhetoric of the regime’s supporters — to become the dominant rhetoric of the society.
That is why I prefer to stay strong and firm in response to these insults, humiliations and diatribes that target my sex as a woman, and instead go the way of dialogue.
You mentioned warmongers. Some of your critics say that you should not have accepted Pompeo’s invitation because he is a known warmonger.
We are in a transition period when a large portion of Iranians do not want the Islamic Republic, but their voices are not heard. In this period, western governments must recognize the voice of the majority of Iranians who do not want the Islamic Republic and this dictatorship but their voices are not heard. Why? Because we do not have free elections and those who represent the Islamic Republic at the negotiating table with the representatives of Europe and western countries do not represent the oppressed people of Iran.
Many of the same people who object that Pompeo is a warmonger and that I should not have met him voted for characters like [Ghorbanali] Dorri Najafabadi [Intelligence Minister during a series of murders of intellectuals and critics of the Islamic Republic known as the “chain murders”], warmongers of the Revolutionary Guards and torturers. So they recognize [the legitimacy of] domestic warmongers. Those who shout hurrah for the picture of Zarif and John Kerry and vote for the instigators of the chain murders are not qualified to ask why I met Pompeo.
Secondly, I went to meet him to say that we do not want war. If we do not want war then we must talk. I told Pompeo that instead of places sanctions on the people of Iran, they should sanction warmongers and the oppressors of the Islamic Republic; instead of restricting visas for ordinary people, restrict the princelings of hostage takers and torturers who rob the Iranian people and take money outside the country. When my rhetoric is the same as the peaceful rhetoric of Iranian people, I must ask why they only hear those who support war and tensions.
You mentioned the May 2018 meeting between Iranian Foreign Secretary Javad Zarif and former Secretary of State John Kerry. Some of your critics believe that Pompeo and John Kerry are different.
Whether under Obama or under Trump, the US government has had the same policies toward the Islamic Republic, but what is absent is the voice of the people, who do not believe in the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic after 40 years of torturing, murdering and imprisoning its critics.
Other critics say that you do not represent all the people of Iran.
Of course nobody can claim to represent all the people of Iran and, as it happens, that is why we want a referendum and free elections to decide who really does represent the people of Iran.
Does a government that killed more than 100 people during the 2009 election and just last year threw more than 7,000 people in jail represent the people of Iran? Are Zarif and Rouhani, who walked over the bodies of killed and imprisoned citizens to sit on the top, represent the people of Iran? No!
I do not claim to be the voice of all Iranians. I only represent that part of the Iranian people who have trusted my media activities in support of human rights in recent years. I do my best to represent these people. My motto has always been: We must not wait for an oppressor government to represent us; we must not wait for the reformists and other such groups to represent us; we, ourselves, must represent ourselves.
This is the age of communication and now ordinary citizens have the power. In last year’s marches you heard the voices of workers, farmers, teachers, miners and the women who stood up to protest against mandatory hijab — the voice of each of the people who were censored by the official media of the Islamic Republic. I am one of those — a citizen that the Islamic Republic said it represents — but this citizen has bypassed them and this is what made them angry.
What was the most striking comment, approving or disapproving, that you have received since the meeting with Pompeo on Tuesday?
What most impressed me was the comment on my Instagram page that said: “40 years ago there was a revolution that forced women behind a black curtain and now an Iranian woman talks with the most powerful country in the world from a position of authority.” This is the comment I really loved and boosted my morale. The most adverse comment was the one by the attorney general, who instead of critiquing me called me a “corrupt element.” Five years ago, a low-level TV announcer called me a “whore.” Now the attorney general calls me “corrupt”. This must be exactly what Mr. Khamenei means when he talks about the “Islamic model of progress.”