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Prisons and Protests: Covering Iran After the Election

Iason Athanasiadis, Freelance journalist; Barbara Slavin, Assistant Managing Editor, World and National Security, The Washington Times; Jon Sawyer, Executive Director, Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting

Date & Time

Nov. 30, 2009
3:00pm – 4:30pm

Prisons and Protests: Covering Iran After the Election

Iason Athanasiadis discussed his extensive background in covering the Middle East in a range of media and described his experience while detained for two weeks in Iran during its post-election crackdown. He believes the Western media has entered a "new age" in covering the Middle East, particularly Iran. Due to the increasing constraints on foreign media inside Iran, fluency in Farsi and having access to insider contacts have become essential to the job of journalists and correspondents. While all foreign media face some risks, journalists not affiliated with high profile media are especially vulnerable at the hands of the regime. Speaking on the visible increase of repression and state militarization in Iran, Athanasiadis stated there is a misperception that this process of clamping down was triggered solely by the June election. He insisted the clampdown began in 2005 with the election of Ahmadinejad, led by the "New Right" and Revolutionary Guards, and was exacerbated by the demonstrations, brutality, and controversy surrounding the recent election. Countering another common misperception Athanasiadis also asserted that the government sees its own insiders, not the West, as the biggest threat to its stability and survival. It is, however, not willing to accept that those protesting are among the people and voices of Iran. Athanasiadis believes that Iran's disproportionate response to the summer demonstrations exposed its underlying paranoia of internal instability and Western infiltration; the confiscation of Shirin Ebadi's Nobel medal last week epitomizes the regime's exercise of "pointless power," he added. Speaking about his time in detainment by Iranian intelligence, he said that it became evident that there is a pronounced "divide between reality and what the interrogators assume to be true." He concluded by saying that, auspiciously, the current "Green" movement is an organic one, much like the one which inspired to depose the Shah in 1979.

Barbra Slavin spoke on the dubiousness of the Islamic Republic and how this complicates Western dealings with Tehran. According to Slavin, those presently in power are the remnants of the Revolutionary Guard who led and fought in the Iran-Iraq war; this perhaps is why the Islamic Republic is the most isolated it has been since its creation in 1979. She also views the government's push toward conservative-right policies as an attempt to re-foster the "cultural revolution," which started in the early days of the Islamic Republic; however, she believes they will fail in this endeavor. According to Slavin, the Iranian diasporas living in major Western cities - ex-Revolutionaries and defectors - played a unique role in the election aftermath, actively spreading news and information to and from Iran, and proved to be great assets to defeated presidential candidates Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi in exposing their movement. On a final point, Slavin said that Iran's recent obstinacy in the international arena, particularly over the nuclear issue, is the regime's way of projecting strength.

Drafted by Nader Mehran on behalf of the Middle East Program.

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Middle East Program

The Wilson Center’s Middle East Program serves as a crucial resource for the policymaking community and beyond, providing analyses and research that helps inform U.S. foreign policymaking, stimulates public debate, and expands knowledge about issues in the wider Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.  Read more


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