Siamak Ghaderi, who spent four years in jail for his brave and outspoken journalism, has been awarded the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) 2014 International Press Freedom Award..
Ghaderi was arrested in July 2010 and in January 2011, the Revolutionary Court sentenced him to four years in prison and 60 lashes on charges of propaganda against the regime and conspiracy against national security.
Ghaderi worked as a reporter and editor for the state-affiliated Islamic News Agency (IRNA) for 18 years, but was fired after his arrest and before the court even reached its verdict. He had criticized agency officials and praised the Green Movement on his blog “Our IRNA,” which was thought to have been partially responsible for his dismissal.
In 2007, after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told a New York audience that there were no homosexuals in Iran, Ghaderi responded by publishing interviews with Iranian homosexuals.
Throughout his four-year detention, he left prison only once, escorted to his trial blindfolded. During his time in prison, he did not ask for a furlough or for clemency.
Following the announcement that the Committee to Protect Journalists had awarded the press freedom prize to Ghaderi, IranWire spoke to him about the importance of raising awareness of the plight of journalists in Iran and his fight to protect freedom of expression.
Did you know that you would be receiving the award?
No. One of my friends who works with media outside Iran gave me the news. Of course it made me happy. Naturally I think highly of CPJ for choosing an Iranian journalist for the award. I am proud that an international professional body in my field has judged me worthy of this award.
To be honest, I have to say that this award belongs to many brave Iranian journalists, to those who are still in prison: Bahman Ahmadi Amouee, Keyvan Samimi, Masoud Bastani, Ahmad Zeidabady, Saeed Matinpour, Saeed Madani and, foremost among them, Alireza Rajaie. It’s for those who are in exile but have never forgotten their duty and have not shirked from supporting the people’s protest movement, and for those who have remained in the country and struggle hard to keep the flame of freedom alive.
Do you think your American colleagues should have asked Rouhani more questions about the situation of journalists and human rights in Iran?
Of course. Journalists have no right to investigate the government decisions on issues such as sanctions, or the nuclear program. So, asking a government official about those issues is really futile. The answer they give you is usually like press releases. They are ready for those kinds of questions. I can understand that a journalist like Christiane Amanpour can’t ask any questions she wants to. She has to abide by certain protocols, so they wouldn’t regret giving her the opportunity to interview Rouhani. But I think journalists should question the representatives of the Iranian government about human rights abuses. May be journalists other than those (like Amanpour) who deal with macro diplomatic issues.
Rouhani told Amanpour that “I do not believe that an individual would be detained or put in prison for being a journalist.” What would be your follow-up question if he gave you that answer?
I would tell him that you represent people who rose against corruption and lies. Aren't you afraid of their disappointment? They’ve made many sacrifices so you can come to power, and some of their best souls are still in prison. You should not betray them.
If it were up to you, to whom would you give this award?
I wish I could give this award to Mir Hossein Mousavi, Zahra Rahnavard and Mehdi Karroubi, who steadfastly remained on the people’s side, and to my brothers in prison who are fighting for freedom and justice.
You were released from prison not long ago. Aren’t you afraid to step over the line and take positions so openly?
Look, it is our duty to voice our opinions freely. Freedom of expression is an undeniable right under the constitution and it belongs to every one of us. If the Islamic Republic regime does not recognize this right, we are the ones who have to pay the price. I wish the regime would respect freedom of expression, and that we could both enjoy our rights as citizens and perform our professional duties.
Now that you’ve been released from prison, what are the chances for you to continue your professional activities?
The truth is that I have received offers to work for the media, but they all require me to use a pseudonym. This is in conflict with my personal and professional principles, so I have not been able to accept any of them.
What do you have to say about President Rouhani’s recent statement and claim that there were no journalists in jail in Iran?
What can you say about someone who spoke out against student demonstrations in 1998? [During his speech, Rouhani, who was then secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, called student leaders corrupt enemies and threatened them with punishment.] Let me state clearly that among the figures and officials of the Islamic Republic, there are few people as trustworthy as Mir Hossein Mousavi. And of course there are people like Mehdi Karroubi, Zahra Rahnavard and Mohammad Khatami whom we can believe would not lie in this way.
It appears that nowadays, Iranian statesmen strongly believe in certain principles: Never tell the truth, don’t be honest, the rights of the people are only for the purposes of window dressing, the rights of the government are sacred, and in order to retain power, anything is allowed — from cheating to using force to prison to house arrest.
As long as the principles of the republic, observance of human rights and especially the rights of the people are not restored I will not believe in any statesmen. I am not a political activist and do not have political ambitions, but if there is something that goes against the law and against the covenant between the people and the government, I will critique it.
Before your release from prison, you predicted the media would become lethargic. What is your assessment of Iranian media at the moment?
I believe that Iranian society is not lethargic. On the contrary: it is very much alive. If I say I have lost hope, it is not about the general atmosphere of the society or the media, but I have lost hope in the political process.
Journalism in Iran is still alive, thanks to journalists who are in prison, exiles who believe in the people and in their country, and media activists inside the country. This vitality should not be attributed to this administration or any previous administration, or to a minister or deputy minister...and so on and so forth.
Do you have anything else you’d like to say?
One of the most glorious chapters of the history of journalism in Iran is being written right now.