Khabarnegaran.info-Niki Azad: Local journalist Mahdieh Amiri speaks of the hardships of practicing journalism in the southern Iranian province of Bushehr. Amiri has been working as a journalist in Bushehr for years. Since 2007, she has been the editor-in-chief of a few local websites, biweekly and quarterly magazines. She is now the editor-in-chief of hamooniran.com website and Ava-ye Dashtestan biweekly.
The treatment of a loving but critical journalist couple, in a land called Iran19 August 2011
Translated by Azita Eraani on Thursday, August 18, 2011
By: Niki Rahjou
Khabarnegaran.info-Likeable, reserved, and considerate; a gentleman who apologizes frequently throughout the course of conversation, lest his words inadvertently offend the listener. Perhaps that explains why everyone was so shocked at the news of his arrest. “Why Bahman(Ahmadi Amouie)(1)? He would never even hurt a fly,” they would exclaim. But, this is only one aspect of Bahman Ahmadi Amouie’s character. In his profession as a journalist he is a serious man of courage and a pillar of strength.
By now, it has become common knowledge that in his time in prison he has never caved in, or capitulated to pressures applied to him; as his interrogators would say with scornful humor: “Amouie is not free, because he hasn’t been properly punished yet.”
Twice so far he has gone on a hunger strike; once to protest prison conditions and a second time in support of Hoda Saber, (3) his fellow journalist prisoner who died from hunger-strike-induced complications. Bahman says to friends: “Saber lost his patience over Haaleh’s (4) death and we all have lost our patience over Saber’s death.”
Now, we all have lost track of the number of days Bahman has spent in solitary confinement, or his inability to call home, or to visit his family on furlough.
Growing up in Chahar-Mahal Bakhtiari, Amouie went on to study economics at Babolsar University, followed by a shining career as an economic journalist. At 43, he remembers a childhood mired in pain, hardship and hard work. He reminisces about the years before his 8th birthday when he and his large family lived in Bakhtiari tribal tents until his family finally relocated to Khoozestan. At the time, most local schools were set up inside tents in various cities of the region that was constantly under attack during Iran-Iraq war. Not a day went by without an attack on the city of Andimeshk where Bahman spent his elementary and secondary school years. He spent his entire childhood and early adolescence in war torn cities and under a steady rain of Saddam Hossain’s bombs and missiles. Perhaps it is those early memories that helped shape him into the avid advocate of peace that he is today.
One thing that remained constant throughout his life was his tendency to view the world through a lens of love, even the painful moments and challenges that never seemed to end. Every time he tells the stories of his childhood memories of war, tears well up in his eyes and he laughs louder than usual, perhaps in an attempt to divert attention from those tears…
His cellmates these days tell us stories of the same tears in his eyes that only appear when he speaks of his wife. Those who leave the prison on furlough, tell Jila that her husband is one of the toughest inmates at ward 350, able to endure every hardship in prison, except for the moments when he remembers his wife and the love they share and the sadness about her loneliness in his absence. The only time when he tears up…
His wife Jila Baniyaghoob(2), a fellow journalist, was also arrested along with her husband on the eve of June 20, 2009, but she was released 2 months later on her birthday. That night in a telephone conversation with his wife’s family, Bahman let out a sigh of relief and asked the family to send Jila his greetings both for her birthday and her release from prison.
Shortly thereafter, Jila too was sentenced to one year in prison and 30 years deprivation from journalistic activities. Those radical judges handing out such rulings, must have known the depth of her passion for her work; hence trying to silence her, which proved to be a futile attempt, as she continued to post regularly on her personal blog, stories of her imprisoned husband and other political prisoners; always infused with passion, emotion and candor while never hiding her tender love for her husband.
One such blog entry reads: “My dear beloved Bahman, Why did they free me and not you? I feel guilty, thinking I must have slipped and given a wrong answer during interrogations… Maybe I showed weakness, maybe I displayed signs of remorse for something I had done leading to my arrest. But you … you are strong and resilient. I am proud of all these character traits of yours.”
On Jila’s birthday, Bahman Amouie wrote: “Up until 13 years ago, this date, 28th of Mordad (August 19) was for me just a reminder of [1953 coup] a time when Americans shattered all our dreams by toppling the single most democratic government in our history; those days when Shaban Bi-Mokh gathered and led a crowd down the streets, yelling “Javid Shah” [Long Live the Shah]; when with the aid of our military and foreign elements, the coup d’etat finally declared victory and overthrew Dr. Mossadegh. But, ever since February 6, 1998 when I ran into you on the stairways of Hamshahri Newspaper, I carry other events in my mind, associated with that date. I know you don’t feel good about having been born on a day that has left bitter memories of defeat in the nation’s collective memory and perhaps you wish you were born on another day instead… But my dear, maybe a Jila born on any other day, would have been a different Jila than this one born on August 19!!
Bahman continues: “You once asked me if I were to write a piece about you, what would say? I am reminded of that question today, while I sit here at ward 350 of Evin. What would I say?! It is not enough to say that you are a diligent worker who expects her co-workers, be it a sister, spouse, friend or stranger, to work hard and take their job seriously. You never settle for flawed work. A reporter lacking focus or an inquisitive mind, totally frustrates you. Life is a collection of unpredictable events and every corner can change ones’ destiny. YOU have been the biggest event of my life…”
Today Bahman Amouie is in jail for the crime of criticizing Ahmadinejad’s economic policies. He was sentenced to 7 years and 4 months in prison, later reduced to 5 years and 4 months on appeal. Just days ago, his family was informed by Hellman Hemmett Institution that Bahman has won the 2011 Hellman Hemmett Award, which honors journalists persecuted for free expression.
Bahman has so far spent 2 years of his prison sentence at Evin prison. He was only allowed one brief furlough in March of 2010 which as he says, bared no resemblance to freedom and joy, as every word and every gesture from a friend, reminded him of his captive friends and 100’s of political prisoners and his colleagues left behind in prison. When asked about his experience in prison, he would shake his head and respond: “Its prison you know…1000’s of others fighting for freedom and democracy, have been there before me… I consider myself one of them.”
Bahman however, was one of the many who was confined to a solitary cell in ward 240, where he couldn’t even stretch out his legs, and in that unbearable heat in summer of 2009. Yet, when asked about that experience, he again smiles and shakes his head… “Solitary confinement provides odd and strange moments – a certain void – wherein you can take stock of your life and every moment of it. You actually realize just how incredibly invaluable your loved ones are to you and how beautiful life can be…”
That is all that Bahman shared with friends during his brief time off. He has since been kept in ward 350 of Evin prison and not allowed another furlough for over a year. Mondays are the only days when he and Jila meet and greet one another through a thick multi-layered glass window and rows of iron bars and a telephone in visitation cabins of Evin. Same glass windows that Jila has repeatedly described in her blog, as so dirty and murky that she often has to ask Bahman to move this way or that, so she can see his face. And how many times they both have had to adjust their seats again and again just to be able to get a better glimpse of one another’s faces.
Both Bahman Ahmadi Amouie and Jila Bani Yaghoob are keenly aware that their circumstances require an unusual degree of strength to be able to endure these hard times and also that this couple’s pain will bring their captors joy.
Even on Bahman’s birthday, Jila (Baniyaghoob)was not allowed a live visitation with him. She said to him through those murky glasses: “I know that they rejoice in our pain and sorrow. This is why you are in prison, to make us both suffer. So, I will try to be strong. But I could not care less if they dismiss our mutual love as a sign of weakness, which is in fact the sign of our strength… Let them hurt us even more, for this love. My darling, let me say that all the sufferings in the last 2 years, have only multiplied my love for you…”
They lay their hands against each others through the glass window…Jila tries to absorb the warmth of Bahman’s strong hands, and then a kiss from afar...
Thus is the treatment of a journalist couple in a land called Iran.
1- Bahman Ahmadi Amouie(or Ahmadi-Amouee,born 1969), arrested on June 20, 2009, he is currently serving a 5 year mandatory prison term in Evin prison. The only crime committed by Bahman has been that of carrying out his professional responsibilities as a journalist. In other words, Bahman is a prisoner of conscience. In fact, his articles published by official newspapers and websites have been cited by interrogators at the Intelligence Ministry and the courts as evidence supporting charges against him, including “Propaganda against the state” and “acting against national security.
2-Jila Baniyaghoob (or Zhīlā Banī Yaʻqūb,born 1972 ) is an internationally renowned Iranian journalist and women rights activist. Editor in chief of Kanoon Zanan Irani, Jila Bani Yaghoub won the 2009 IWMF (International Women’s Media Foundation) Courage in Journalism Award for fearlessly reporting on government and social oppression, particularly as they affect women.
3- Hoda Reza Zadeh Saber (19 March 1959 -10 June 2011) was an Iranian journalist, translator and political activist. He served several prison terms since 2000, and died while on a hunger strike in prison protesting the death of Haleh Sahabi. Saber played a leading role in creation of the magazine Iran-e Farda (Iran of Tomorrow) which was published from 1992 to 2000. Saber was devoted to social justice. In recent years he had been working in Sistan and Baluchestan, both major drug-trafficking routes from neighboring Pakistan and Afghanistan. Saber launched an employment training program, aimed at helping over a thousand underprivileged young people escape the poverty of their drug infested environment.
4- Haleh Sahabi, (1957 – 1 June 2011), An Iranian opposition activist who died after scuffles with security forces at her father’s funeral. Haleh Sahabi was an Iranian Human Rights and democracy activist.
Khabarnegaran.info-Niki Azad: How is life for Iranian journalists after prison? Does their attitude toward their journalism – the profession that put them in jail – change? Are they more conservative than before? Or bolder?
Khabarnegaran – Niki Azad: He has been put in jail three times for his journalist writing, though he says that jail has not made him feel disappointed with the profession of journalism.