Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Protester Speaks Out From Tehran

By Taylor Mirfendereski

The following is the transcript from my June 20 (June 21 in Iran) interview with a young Iranian protester in Tehran, Iran. She has taken a big risk to speak with me. To protect her safety, I will refer to her as Parisa.

I first communicated with her by phone, but because many phones in Iran are tapped, she preferred to communicate through the Internet. I have corrected the grammar and English of her responses for clarity, but have not altered the content.

Photos in this entry are courtesy of The Boston Globe.

TAYLOR: Have you gone to any protests?

PARISA: Yes, I go to all of them!

TAYLOR: What are your reactions to the protests and riots?

PARISA: I participate in all of them because I am sure that there is a big [election] fraud. In fact, the reason for the increase in voter participation was that [the Iranian citizens] see the lies that Ahmadinejad tells for themselves. Everyone said, “It doesn’t matter who will be president. We will vote to not let Ahmadinejad get elected [again].” This election was the first time that we ever had this large of a voter turnout (40 million).

Until now, I believed that these protests were good because it shows our population. Imagine, they say Mousavi won about two million votes in Tehran and on June 15, our biggest rally, there were three million of us who attended. For example, everyone in my family voted for Mousavi, but I was the only of us who attended the rally. Therefore, you should multiply the population.

Another reason that I was in favor of rallies was because the government’s threats of arrest, violence, and even killing people, no longer has an effect on the will of people.

Imagine, on June 15—from morning until the last minutes of the rally– every 15 minutes in all news, they said, “There is no permission for a rally. If you go, we will behave violently. There will be serious sanction against people who attend this rally.” Many of my friends were really frightened by this because the day before, the Basij (militia) started their violent actions. We saw their brutality, but we went.

Interestingly, they asked taxis and busses to not take people to Enghelab Square (where the rally took place), but we went and we showed them how many of us there were and how brave we are. It had a very good effect.

TAYLOR: If you look outside of your window, what do you see? Are there people on the streets protesting?

PARISA: In fact, no! Only at 10:00 pm. At this time, everyone chants “Allah Akhbar” (God is great). But it’s really stupid because after two days of saying “Allah Akhbar,” they [the government] said that the Iranians chant “Allah Akhbar” for Ahmadinejad. After that day, we changed our chants to “Allah Akhbar” and “Ya Hossein, Mir Hossein” to show that we are protesters of Ahmadinejad. (NOTE: Mir Hossein, as said in the chant, refers to Ahmadinejad’s opposition leader.)

TAYLOR: Can you leave your house? Is it safe?

PARISA: In the morning, yes, we can go and it is safe. During the first days after the election, it was even unsafe in the morning. People were gathered close to their homes and offices and the police hit every body. An interesting issue that I want you to pay attention to is that in the middle of election day—before it was finished—they [the government] said, “Tomorrow, any gatherings are forbidden!” I wonder how they knew that people would gather the day after the election? At that time, the election wasn’t even finished. We were still voting! So, it shows that there is definite election fraud because they were sure that after they announced the winner there would be protests.

TAYLOR: Are you scared? Why or why not?

PARISA: When I saw the basij, I was so scared that I couldn’t breathe! Imagine, there were 30 motorcycles, two people on each, without uniform—like normal people, with batons. They had beards and their faces were very aggressive. You know, I am a lawyer. I know the dangers of letting normal people interfere with governmental issue. The problem is that they don’t work for money like all the other police. The basij work for their beliefs. So they think they will go to heaven by killing those who protest against Khameneyi (Supreme Leader of Iran). After Khameneyi spoke during Friday prayer, I got so scared. But I don’t have any fear of being killed.

TAYLOR: Have your friends gone to any protests?

PARISA: Many of my friends went, but some didn’t go because they were scared.

TAYLOR: Has anyone you know been injured or killed? Please explain what happened to them.

PARISA: One of my family members had his head broken. He was hit by a baton.

TAYLOR: How has the atmosphere in Iran changed from before the election to now? What is the atmosphere like now? Are people more open to speaking out against the government?

PARISA: It is very amazing because all of the people have become more brave. You see many artists, soccer players, and lawyers protesting in so many ways. When I was at the rallies, I noticed that people were kinder than before—they help each other and I feel there is a big change. We don’t have any leader in our rallies, but everyone respects the rule of being silent. For Iranians, who usually don’t obey the rules, it is very interesting. I think that the capacity of bearing injustice and watching the lies of government is full. That is the reason that we have all become brave.

TAYLOR: Did you expect it to change like this? Are you surprised?

PARISA: One week before the election, there were signs of something strange. You know, we had televised debates between the candidates, and in all of them we saw that Ahmadinejad said too many lies. He accused the candidates of so many crimes. The day after, the formal institutes who were responsible for the information that Ahmadinejad said, sent a formal letter to TV channels and said that Ahmadinejad tell lies. The TV stations didn’t read their mail and said that they would read it after the election (although they still haven’t read it) and so we see there is a power who wants to show Ahmadinejad as a good person and show the opposition as liar. The day that all of this happened, I thought, “If this power wants to ignore people’s vote because of the lies that Ahmadinejad told in front of 70 million people who have brains and can think, there will be tension in society.” However, I didn’t know that Mousavi was this brave.

TAYLOR: Who is protesting? What are the demographics?

PARISA: It’s very interesting. All ages—even very old people and religious people. You can see all kinds of people. If you have access to the video of Friday prayer, compare the people who were there with the pictures of the protesters. There is a big difference. But I have to say that most of the protestors are young and most of them are educated.

TAYLOR: Can you drive your cars on the streets or are they blocked with people?

PARISA: Rallies are at a specific time and place so cars cannot move just at that time and that place.

TAYLOR: How have people organized their protests if cell phones are shut down?

PARISA: They use their landline phones. Some people who can pass filters use their Internet and email to find out. Our mobile phones sometimes work and sometimes don’t work. But when we go to rallies, they are completely shut down. The SMS (text message) system has been off since the day of the election. All of Mousavi’s websites are blocked. He has tried to make other sites, but the speed of our Internet is very slow. During the rallies, people share the next day’s schedule with each other. Imagine, without having tools for communication, the Iranian people are this strong! So if we had communication access, then we could be much more!

TAYLOR: Can you access information? How? Which information can you access?

PARISA: With difficulty. Our TV has only government-owned and operated channels. It has become the god of lies. It makes us crazy and recently, I haven’t watched it because it makes me crazy. We have to try so hard to find true information and so there are not too many people who have the time or tools to find it. So I have to say no. We don’t have access.

TAYLOR: Can you still go to work this week? Why or why not?

PARISA: I could! But I didn’t. I was so tired of rallies and not sleeping. I didn’t sleep because I have been trying to find information on Internet.

TAYLOR: What outcome will come from this situation? What do you foresee for Iran's future?

PARISA: This election marked the start of change. I don’t know when there will be change, but I am sure the start day is today.

TAYLOR: What is the overall energy in Tehran right now— fear, excitement, hope, etc.?

PARISA: It goes up and down. The first day, we were so upset. We didn’t see any hope. After the June 15 rally, we got happy, but again after Khameneyi spoke at Friday prayer, we became so sad and scared.

TAYLOR: Is this another revolution? Do you believe that a revolution is needed?

PARISA: No. We just want to have another election with a supervisor who is not in favor of anybody who is running. But after Khameneyi’s speech in Friday prayer, I don’t know what will happen.

TAYLOR: Who did you vote for in the election? Who do you think won? Do you think they will do the election over? Why or why not?

PARISA: I voted for Mousavi. I thought he would win and I am sure he is the real winner. Their [the government’s] behavior shows that they will not have another election because they want Ahmadinejad to be the president, even with the price of killing their people.

TAYLOR: Describe the most memorable thing that you have seen since the protests and riots began on election day?

PARISA: The amount of people who came to the rally on June 15 (3 million). Although, the best thing was that they said they would attack us.

Yesterday, June 20, the amount of basij and police and their brutality was the worst thing I’ve seen. I cried the whole time. They hit everyone. Old, young, girls, boys. They didn’t let us gather. You know, when the population is spread, we are vulnerable. Yesterday they tried to spread people. They used everything. I heard the sound of guns. They were very scary. There were too many basij. I think they came from all over the country.

TAYLOR: How is the older generation reacting to everything? Upset, excited, scared?

PARISA: They are active in protesting and they think like the younger generation.

TAYLOR: Have you met anyone who is upset with the situation?

PARISA: Every one is upset!

TAYLOR: Why is it safer to communicate online than on the phone?

PARISA: The government controls the phones and records the conversations. They try to say America and England are leading the protesters. For example, last night in Iran, the Iranian news stations said that there is evidence that proves England had influence in this situation. Their evidence was the voice of a woman who was talking on the phone and asked her friend to burn the cars, banks, and say death to Khameneyi.

TAYLOR: Has the city of Tehran shut down? Are the malls and restaurants open?

PARISA: In the morning, they are open. But during the evenings, the places close to the rallies are closed.

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