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Friday, January 15, 2010

Zhila Baniyaghoub’s letter to the judge who presided over her husband’s case

Zhila Baniyaghoub, Bahaman Amooyi’s wife, has written a letter to the judge of her husband’s case to protest his [prison] sentence. She has stated that the punishment imposed on her husband is due in part to the judge’s [lack of] knowledge of the journalism profession. Bahman Amooyi is the journalist who has been in prison since June 20th and sentenced by the judge of branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court to seven years in prison and 34 lashes.

Here is the text of her letter according to Norooz website quoting an entry from Ms. Baniyaghoub’s blog (Ms. Baniyaghoub is a journalist):

Judge PirAbbas, you have declared criticism as the reason for finding Bahman guilty!

Judge PirAbbas, A few days ago, my husband Bahman called from prison to inform me of the sentence you issued: “Seven years and four months imprisonment and 34 lashes for a journalist!”

To be honest, such sentences handed down by you and your colleagues have become so common that I would have been surprised if you had issued a different sentence.

More bizarre is that a few weeks before Bahman’s trial, a young lady who is closely related to him called me and said that she had heard that some of the defendants had been exonerated by the Revolutionary Court. She sounded very worried and added: “I am worried that Bahman will be found not guilty too.” I asked: “Well, that should not be a source of worry.”

She yelled: “How can you not understand that if he is found not guilty, his reputation as well that of his family will be tarnished? When all the political prisoners are receiving harsh sentences, if Bahman is exonerated or receives a light sentence, it implies that he had been cooperating with his interrogators. It means Bahman had not been as strong and determined as we thought him to be. Do you know how embarrassed I will be at the university if he receives a light sentence when Saeed Leilaz [economist and journalist], Ahmad ZeidAbadi, and Abdollah Momeni [both activists and journalists] all received long prison sentences? Anybody exonerated will be embarrassed.”

We live in a strange country, your Honour! In a land where a not guilty verdict will cause shame. The wife of one of the prisoners who was also awaiting your decision told her husband: “Don’t you dare receive a sentence of less than six years in prison!”

Your Honour, the revolutionary vow our fathers took in 1979 was not to establish a system where receiving a long prison sentence would symbolize a badge of honour and a non guilty verdict would be a cause for humiliation.

I am forced to say that the threat of some of the interrogators in prison against some of the prisoners was this: “If we decide to ruin your reputation, we will get you a not guilty verdict.” What has happened that even the interrogators consider the not guilty verdict shameful?

Your Honour, I am writing to you to inform you that I was not surprised even slightly at the sentence you handed down to Bahamn. However, I was shocked by one of the reasonings you gave to for finding Bahman guilty.

You know that Ms. Gheyrat, Bahman’s caring lawyer, based her defense on the fact that Bahman is “an independent journalist and critic.” Bahman’s duty as a professional journalist allows him to criticize certain phenomena. Consequently, not only had he criticized Ahmadinejad’s economic plans in his four year tenure in office, but he also criticized the performance of the former President Khatami and his government. Bahman is the writer of the Islamic Republic Political Economic book, parts of which is critical of the performance of the government of Mr. Mousavi during the time he was prime minister [between 80-88].”

I learnt that you used this very defense to find Bahamn guilty. You wrote: “The very fact that he criticizes all the governments shows his malice (and perhaps guilt!)

Judge Pir Abbas, do you really consider being critical a crime? Do you know that the main responsibility of journalists is to watch over and criticize the power structure? The journalist tries to illuminate the dark corner of the society thereby helping improve its condition. This is an accepted principle. It is granted that in today’s world, a society that is not bound by the progressive principle of criticism and does not tolerate dissent cannot be a dynamic society.

Certainly you have heard many times that if intolerance toward criticism is embedded into a society’s culture, that society will only go backward.

I do not want to condemn you. I do not even want to accuse you of being unjust. I learnt years ago not to condemn people easily, even if the person in question is the judge who has handed down my husband a heavy sentence. It is not entirely your fault. I know that problem is more radical and complicated than your views on journalists and the profession of journalism. It is not your fault if you do not know the characteristics of the journalism profession. For years, our journalists have been asking loudly that the trials dealing with journalists should be judged by a jury of peers, with the presence of the people who are familiar with the nature of journalism.

They know that the professional duty of a journalist is to critically look at the issues. They know that in journalism schools, the students are taught to view politicians through a critical rather than a sycophant lens.

Probably you would argue that Bahman’s accusation was not journalism related. Was it really not, your Honour? All the evidences you announced to find Bahman guilty revolved around his professional duties. You have accused him of conspiring against national security. The only reason for this accusation was his being the chief editor of Khordad website. Is being the chief editor of a news website anything but related to journalistic activities? Libel against the regime, conspiring and insulting the president are the terms used these days by Revolutionary Court judges to describe media-related activities of Bahman and other jailed journalists. Is it anything otherwise?

Your Honour, I know that if I fill pages after pages on the issue of criticism and the society’s tolerance of criticism, it would be useless since you would probably say that these are souvenirs imported from the West!

I have heard that you are a religious man. Therefore, I remind you of a phrase by the dear prophet Mohammed: “Throw dust at the face of sycophants and flatterers.”

Instead of resorting to the words of the world’s intellectuals that are in favour of criticism and tolerance in the face of criticism, I will repeat the words of one your fellow religious peers who described the criticism of Mostafa Khomeini, the son of Ayatollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Revolution:

The pillars of knowledge are strengthened through criticism. The heart of knowledge beats with the blood of criticism. The unknown shores of concepts are conquered by the ships of criticism. The law of emergence of better thoughts takes root in a system open to criticism: Mostafa Khomeini used to critique everyone, all issues and at all times, because he knew criticism is the essence of a human’s mind and it does not recognize any boundary.

Your Honour, if a journalist acting as a critic is a sign of malice to you, but in the world of journalism, it is a sign of the journalist’s independence and professionalism. In other words, it is a sign that the journalist, free of all political and partisan ties, is trying to carry out his/her professional duties, because he/she is a journalist; an independent journalist.

Translated by: Siavosh J.,

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