Sunday, July 13, 2008

Let Batebi Rest

Since the student uprising in July, 1999, many things have happened in my life that I never thought would happen. Looking back they just seem incredible. For example, when I was following the news of the suppression of the student uprising in Iran, I never thought one day, one of those student leaders, Gholamreza Mohajerani-Nejad will be my guest for two weeks in London. When I was helping to make the documentary, Iran Forbidden, I never thought one day I will meet Fakhravar face to face, and host him here in London. Similarly when I wrote the post on Nazanin Afshin-Jam two years ago, I never thought I will help organise an event for her to speak in the UK parliament. The list can go on like this, but I don't want to deviate from what I am about to write.

After July, 1999, two other young Iranian ex-pat activists and myself in three different parts of the world, started a website which was supposed to concentrate on the new pro-democracy movement in Iran, publish related news and help us to establish contact with those inside Iran.
One day we received a Persian text from an unknown source which read 'The young student whose picture was published on the cover of the Economist, is called Ahmad Batebi, and is sentenced to death' . In fact we misread the name as Bateni - the difference between the letters 'n' and 'b' in Persian is a dot above or below respectively.

Immediately, I contacted the Economist's Foreign Editor at the time, a very pleasant and approachable lady by the name of Barbara Smith. She was devastated at what I told her and said she would check with her sources in Iran. Her sources confirmed the news and in fact Barbara Smith was the one who told us the young man's name is Ahmad Batebi and not Bateni.

Barbara Smith then ran an article highlighting the severe sentences passed by the Islamic court, including the four death sentences in the next issue of the Economist. She also gave us a contact name at Reuters who owned the photograph of Batebi published on the cover of the magazine. I rang Reuters, explained the situation and Reuters kindly wavered their loyalty fee and provided me with the high resolution photograph. This enabled us to make posters and T-shirts of Batebi and publicise his plight.

When Batebi's letter from prison about his treatment reached us, some English friends of mine made a play based on the letter. We staged this play in some UK universities and schools.

I was invited to a UK student conference in East London, organised by Campaign for Free Education, and talked to them about the student movement in Iran from the cultural revolution right up to the July uprising. The students themselves then suggested to nominate Ahmad Batebi for the historic position of honorary vice-president of UK's National Union of Students.
The NUS conference in March 2000, did in fact elect Batebi for this post. On one anniversary of the student uprising, we made a short clip for Azadi TV, where we went to a UK university and asked UK students to express messages of solidarity to Iranian students and hold up Batebi T-shirts while saying 'Azadi Andisheh, Hamishe Hamishe' - 'Freedom of Thought, For Ever, For Ever' The popular slogan of the uprising. The program was a huge success and was beamed almost every day to Iran leading up to the anniversary of the student uprising.

Other Iranian pro-democracy activists in UK and other countries outside Iran also campaigned hard and Batebi with his famous picture holding a bloody T-shirt became the symbol of the new movement. All this we hoped helped to save Batebi from the death sentence.

Today, I received an email from a friend who was familiar with the campaign we had for Batebi at the time. I laughed when she asked if I had some thing to do with his escape. The truth is I had nothing to do with it. I only ever managed to talk to Batebi once in the last 9 years and that was very briefly during one of his prison leaves.

While I was happy to see Batebi finally find safety, I have been uncomfortable about the fact that he ended up in US. Unfortunately Iranian ex-pats in US and their petty rivalries and rumour mongering have often broken down escaped dissidents even more than the Islamic Republic prison authorities have managed. Cell mates who stood together against their interrogators in the Islamic Republic prisons become sworn enemies of each other in US through the unsavoury manipulation of some Iranian ex-pats in US who revel in petty factional rivalries.

I have seen this unfortunate phenomenon too many times. While these dissidents are inside Iran, they are everyone's heroes but when they come out, God forbid if they hold an interview ,for example, with a rival TV presenter. Soon petty personal jealousies will make villains out of them and yesterday's heroes become Islamic Republic 'collaborators' etc. A point which was also raised by Amnesty International's Zahir JanMohammad in the article published in NY Times:
' Mr. Batebi joins an exile community whose rivalries are legendary, many factions would seek to recruit him. '

I hope what happened to previous Iranian dissidents who ended up in US will not happen to Batebi, and I wish Iranian ex-pat groups in US will not get into yet another mud slinging match with each other over who is more suitable to recruit Batebi. I wish to talk and meet with Batebi one day and even have him as my guest in London in the future, but for now I just hope Batebi will get a chance to rest and Iranian ex-pats just help him get the medical attention he needs. I wish, as Batebi himself says in the NY Times, he can go fishing and enjoy life in a country where people are free to live their lives.

13 comments:

Bahramerad said...

I completely agree with you on this point.
Let him have a rest and get grounded and regain his senses.
It could not have been easy to suffer 9 years of the Fascist IRI's prisons.
I hope that he takes up his first love — that of film making — and perhaps in a couple of years time when he is good and ready, comes over for a well earned holiday to Europe, then we can all meet up and have few celebratory drinks to his good health and help him to enjoy the rest of his life with a bit more humanity and dignity.
He is a brave man and a true hero and as he says in his interviews — they were never able to break him down — like a true Rostam he fought them and he won.
He is a leader for the next Iranian generations.
We need more gentle and loveable people like him in future and we must preserve the likes of him like gold dust.

Anonymous said...

Azarmehr, thanks for your hard work in the human rights arena. I noticed your site in the context of Nazanin's visit to London last week.

You are correct. It is sad that so many Persians throughout the free nations are choosing to engage in division and dissention. There is no reason for this. My ancestors left Persia approximately 1300 years ago when they were transported to France, so I don't have quite the recent connection with modern Persia that you possess, but I am connected to the spirit of this great people. I remember the brilliant concepts of Cyrus the Great in his famous "Declaration of Human Rights" which even caught the attention of the Jewish Prophet Isaiah. (Isaiah 45:1-7)

Keep up the good work. Everything we do today will resonate throughout history.

(By the way, it does not violate the concept of free speech to delete the posts of those who espouse hatred. They are perfectly free to voice their hatred elsewhere.) :)

Winston said...

It's shocking to see the Islamic regime goons like Daryoosh Sajjadi attacking this good young man since he arrived in the States. I wish Mr. Batebi safety and good health. And hopefully idiot sympathizers to the regime will let him live his life for now.

Azarmehr said...

Thanks for your kind words Anon.

Your ancestors left Persia 1300 years ago and were transported to France? You can trace your ancestors that far back? Vow?! Let me know more, I am interested.

Azarmehr said...

Winston,

Can you send me a link to Sajjadi's accusations of Batebi please.

Sajjadi is a vermin.

Winston said...

Sajjadi is a vile regime agent. His accusations were published on news.gooya.com

here

barmakid said...

Wow, I never knew others thought of the Iranian exile community in the US the way you described. I mean, it's definitely true; I just didn't know that such a perception of the exile community was so widespread.

Here's the thing though: It seems as if the expat opposition exploits the plight of any IRI political prisoner to their liking - and in a sense, it creates false (or naive) hope. As principled and courageous as Batebi was, nine years in prison doesn't necessarily qualify one to be the voice of the "opposition." Just like 6 years in a Vietnam POW camp doesn't qualify you to be president- for all the McCain supporters out there:)

While Batebi's image has become an icon of the opposition, the IRI has become a juggernaut in the region. Their fate has as much to do with US-Israeli geostrategy as it does with any internal opposition movement - and little to nothing to do with individual political dissidents.

In fact, even if the civilian part of the regime decided to abolish the vilayet-e faqih, majlis-e khobregan, and other bodies connected to maktab-e rahbar they would face a violent and formidable opposition from sepah-e pasderan (IRGC). Most people don't realize that the IRGC largely operates independently and is unaccountable to anyone but the Rahbar (Sayid Ali).

And in Khameniei's case, he is so weak - theologically and politically - that he can't even control the IRGC (he needs them more then they need him). The only person that ever had a firm grasp over their operations was Khomeini. Then there is the question of the Basij..hmmm?

My point is this: sporadic and mercurial student movements are ineffective (but not insignificant). Look at other opposition movements towards governments like the IRI. The Cuban exiles have been trying these things for 5 decades, and to no avail. The best thing they could hope for to get the Cuba they want (free and democratic) is a change in US policy towards the Castro/Raul regime.

When political dissidents are exiled from Cuba, the Cuban regime is winning. When political dissidents, like Batebi and Ganji, are exiled from Iran, the IRI is winning. I think its time we revised our playbooks, but what do I know, I'm a commie IRI supporter:)

be salamat,
barmakid

Azarmehr said...

Barmakid,

Not knowing about Iran and thinking that the Tudeh Party was a Yes party for the Shah :))), you may not know it took 15 years after Khomeini's uprising and exile for his efforts to come to fruition.

As you said you are not a 'Sovietologist' and thought Stalin was a teenager when the Bolsheviks won power in Russia in 1917 :))), but it took 12 years from the uprising of 1905 before the February revolution of 1917 which overthrew the Tsar.

I believe the student uprising in 1999 in Iran was also a dress rehearsal and it laid the foundations of the new pro-democracy movement and it will take some time to mature and come to fruition.

Having said all the above, I find myself in the uncomfortable position of sharing your view that

'When political dissidents, like Batebi and Ganji, are exiled from Iran, the IRI is winning'

particularly if they end up in US.

Winston said...

18 Tir taught the Iranian people that the regime can be defeated.

barmakid said...

About Khomeini, I know he was exiled in 63 and I was gonna mention it but I didn't want to write so much.

Khomeini didn't start the revolution, he solidified it. The thing with him is that he is a Marja'a-taghlid, which commands the respect of all Shii muslims automatically, aside from those who are his direct followers. Combine this with the fact the revolution was not an Islamic revolution initially but somehow gradually cane to take on an Islamic context. How? I've said it before and I'll say it again: Revolutions, at best, ratify preexisting power sources, i.e. the most organized. And who's more organized than the Shii ulamma/ruhanian? Not the MEK, not any opposition movement, nobody.

Thus, we have been consigned to 30 years of religious government, and there's more to come folks.

When the Bolsheviks toppled the Czar, the Russian people had to wait 83 years to rid themselves of their supposedly communist government; hopefully it won't take us 83 years.

barmakid

Azarmehr said...

The Bolsheviks didnt topple the Tsar, the Tsar was toppled in February after being forced to abdicate, the Bolsheviks carried out a coup against the provisional elected government and seized power because they couldnt be democratically elected.

Normally organised revolutions lead to tyranny, lets hope for a velvet revolution without a single organised party leading it.

You seem fascinated by teh Bolsheviks!

Simon Forbes said...

Potkin jan

It is indeed interesting how swiftly some individuals have come out of the woodwork to bad mouth Ahmed Batebi. This is not of course the first time this sort of thing has happened of course when a dissident has fled Iran.

Hoder has something very negative say about Batebi too - quelle surprise.

Here is the link to Hoder's Persian article, which I haven't had time to translate. Would be interested in a summary.

http://tinyurl.com/6l9ywd

He prefaced this on the English section of his web site with the words

"It's great to see the American-made 'champion' of human rights in Iran, Ahmad Batebi, has returned to those who created him in the first place: The U.S. government."

Surely anybody who can make such sneering comments about a brave young man who has fought for democracy and suffered the most horrific torture at the hands of a brutal dictatorship can have neither sense of decency or shame.

Any publication that prints such a person's drivel or any organisation that gives them a platform can have little shame too.

Winston said...

Fakhravar seems to be angry at Ahmad. Why?