Interview with Iranian Journalists Golnaz Esfiandari and Niusha Boghrati
“One of the worst things for political prisoners is the feeling that they have been forgotten by the outside world.”
On January 11, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty hosted its third official public Facebook interview—this time with its correspondents from Iran.
Between 12:30 and 1:00pm EST users were invited to participate in the discussion of the country’s current events as RFE/RL questioned Golnaz Esfiandari, senior correspondent and author of its Iranian blog Persian Letters and Niusha Boghrati, Editor in Chief of its Iran Service, Radio Farda.
In this interview, they discussed the recent issues of Iran’s diplomatic situation with the US and China, rumors surrounding the murder of Iranian nuclear scientist Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, Internet censorship, and Iran’s political prisoners. These events are open to the public, and participants are encouraged to question, comment, and “Like” during the interviews.
Below Sampsonia Way presents an excerpt from the January 11 conversation.
RFE/RL: Radio Farda and the Persian Letters blog have reported on several instances of the “Electronic Curtain” impacting the ability of citizens to search and communicate via the Internet. In addition to the new Internet cafe laws, what plans are already in place and what do you see being enacted in the near future? Will it be successful?
Golnaz Esfiandari: Iran is tightening its grip on the Internet, which has been a huge headache for Iranian leaders. On top of the new rules for Internet cafes, more websites are being filtered, such as the website of Iran’s former president Rafsanjani who is the head of the Expediency Council. Iranian officials have said that they’re working on a national Internet or halal Internet which could lead to even more online censorship. There’s also concern that Iran would cut off access to the World Wide Web, but experts I’ve talked to this week believe that’s not going to be possible in the near future. Iranians are very Internet savvy which makes it even more difficult for Iran to ban them from accessing information online.
Niusha Boghrati: I too agree with Golnaz. Maybe the most crucial thing for Iranians right now is the talk of a so called “national internet” being launched in Iran, which would basically be an intranet with all servers inside the country. Iran has not said that it would replace the Internet, but people fear that it would give Iran the capability to do so as soon as they feel necessary to do so.
RFE/RL: Facebook lurkers, join in the conversation! We want to hear your questions and comments.
Catherine Antoine (directing and managing editor of Radio Free Asia): Since we are on the topic of Internet censorship, do you have any evidence of collaboration between the Iranian and Chinese government on Internet filtering?
Golnaz Esfiandari: I haven’t seen any evidence but as one Internet expert told me, Iranians might be learning from the Chinese who have been successful in censoring online content and creating their own content online.
AMin Mir: What do you think of this new trend of writing critical letters to the Supreme Leader among Iranian activists? How effective is it in your opinion?
Golnaz Esfiandari: It’s definitely a challenge for the regime and for Iran’s Supreme leader Aya. Khamenei. Those who write the letters are breaking one of Iran’s most sacred taboos.
AMin Mir: Do you have any knowledge as to how publicized these letters become among the Iranians inside Iran, considering all the Internet censorship and static on satellite channels?
Niusha Boghrati: One of the interesting points about these letters is that some of them are being written by people who used to be close to Ayatollah Khamenei. So they are basically showing the widening gap between the more conservative layers of the society and the government.
Golnaz Esfiandari: They are getting some attention, especially the last one from a former IRGC commander that was published in an Iranian daily. I see lots of discussions about those letters. As you know, Iranians use anti-filtering tools to access banned websites where those letters are being posted. Radio Farda and other media cover those letters so I think many know about them.
RFE/RL: One final question and it will be a bit more personal. You are sharing news with an audience that is generally prevented from getting news that is not officially sanctioned. What’s it like to interact on that level?
Niusha Boghrati: Well, you know, given the situation in Iran, it’s a very interesting relationship, and one can actually learn from it as well! No matter how serious the situation can get for Iranians for contacting us, we still receive tons of audio messages, as well as emails and text messages from them. And of course Facebook has taken the whole concept of interacting to an entirely new level. Even throughout the violent clampdown during the post-election uprising of 2009 we were still receiving comments and questions from our listeners. It makes you realize that no matter how hard you try to curb the free flow of information, people would still stand for their natural right.
Farah Naaz Mawami: I co-founded the Free the Hikers campaign to free my friends. I’m now speaking out for the many others in similar horrific situations in Iran. What are your thoughts on the effectiveness of separate campaigns for each political prisoner vs. global efforts at larger change in Iran?
Golnaz Esfiandari: That’s a question I often ask human rights activists and those who campaign on behalf of political prisoners. I think in some cases mostly when dealing with Westerners who have been held in Iran, or dual nationals, campaigns have been successful. In the case of Iranian political prisoners, I’m not so sure. In some cases some campaigns have led to more pressure. But one thing is clear: One of the worst things for political prisoners is the feeling that they have been forgotten by the outside world, and I think that’s the sense authorities want to give them as a type of psychological torture.
Farah Naaz Mawami: Yes, Sarah, Shane and Josh have all emphasized the great significance of knowing they had not been forgotten in getting them through the horror. And I also believe that highlighting the people being unjustly held is what engages people in taking action.
Golnaz Esfiandari: Let’s hope Iranian political prisoners will get as much as attention as US citizens jailed in Iran.
Farah Naaz Mawami: Definitely! There are many, many, MANY more of them!
RFE/RL: Thank you Golnaz and Niusha for joining us today. Iran will no doubt continue to be a major topic of discussion in the news and we hope to have you back to chat again soon. And thank you to everyone who shared their questions and comments. Until next time…