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.
Journalism after Imprisonment in Iran4 October 2011
khabarnegaran.info:-Imprisonment of journalists in the recent years has hardly been a rare phenomenon and there has been plenty of coverage in the media of detention of journalists. This has especially been the case over the past two years, because after the disputed presidential election of 2009, the imprisonment of the journalists has become practically routine. Indeed, these days there are more journalists being detained than politicians.
Have we ever asked how these journalists feel about their profession after being released? How do they experience journalism after imprisonment? Have we ever asked whether they have the same perspective on journalism after release, or whether they now look at their career from a different angle? Whether imprisonment makes them more persistent in their profession, or distances them from their career forever? We asked these questions of some of those journalists who have had the experience of being imprisoned. Some of these journalists, because of their difficult circumstances, preferred to speak anonymously, whereas others were full and frank in their disclosure of their post-imprisonment experiences.
I have spoken to some of these formerly detained journalists. The following article is the result of these interviews. As the interviewees requested, their names are not mentioned here.
"I Am More Determined To Be a Journalist "
One of the journalists currently on temporary release stated that, “although I have been released on bail and I have to deal with a lot of restrictions, while in prison and during interrogation I understood how important our role is as providers of information to society. I understood how significant my profession was and I am not giving it up. Nowadays, I do whatever I can for my profession. I am even active underground as a journalist. Prison has made me more resolute. It has made me more determined to persist in my profession and to pursue this career."
"I Preferred Not To Join Any Newspaper’s Editorial Desk" Another journalist who was detained for two years explained that, “I would like to stay a journalist, especially given the difficult, insecure circumstances of today’s society, but in a freer and more open media.”
This journalist paused and continued, “to be honest, working under these conditions on the newspaper’s editorial desk, where journalists’ writings and ideas are censored, is very hard, and extremely depressing for me. I prefer not to submit any editorials under these inconsistent conditions. Instead, I ’d rather practice in an area of the media where there is no danger of being detained, such as research, or in depth interviews on my own favorite topics.”
This journalist also talked about the experience of imprisonment and interrogations. “During this time, I found out that we journalists can be troublesome for the intelligence and security services and we can pose a lot of challenges for them. If the conditions were right for me to return to the editorial desk, I would like to be active in various judicial and political areas in order to challenge and criticize the government."
This journalist emphasized that, “after being released from prison and because of the massive pressures on me, I decided to quit for ever. Yet journalism is so tempting that I can never entirely convince myself to do so. Also, in Iran the number of detained journalists is so high that being arrested can barely change a journalist’s opinion about the profession.”
Still a Journalist While Detained
One of the journalists recently released from prison stated that, "a real journalist is a journalist, no matter what. Many journalists continue their job while in detention. They report about the conditions inside the prisons and do not give up on providing knowledge and preparing reports for the general public. They have even gone to great lengths to publish stories about other detainees, for example the otherwise untold story of Akbar Amini, the hero who was detained after unfurling a banner with an anti-government slogan from on top of a crane. Or take Mehdi Mahmoodian, an impartial reporter, who reported from the inside of the infamous Rajaiee Shahr prison, at a time when the public had no knowledge of the inhumane treatment of detainees there. There is no doubt that these journalists cannot stop being journalists. They continue doing their best to carry out their professional duties, even there is no immediate outlet for their work."
"I Had To Leave Journalism Behind"
Another former journalist had a different point of view. "People have different characteristics and live in different circumstances. When I was released I had no job, and nobody was willing to hire me as a journalist. My only option was to work as a cab driver for a private company." The journalist added that, "this distance between my profession and me does not demonstrate my lack of interest by any means, but rather the harsh circumstances of life. I have a child who needs continued medical attention, and I cannot sacrifice my child to a career that has no future in Iran except threats and imprisonment."
This former journalist continued by criticizing the lack of support for freelance reporters: "When we are out of prison, nobody supports us. We have to deal with an infinite number of difficulties. How does anyone expect us to continue our work as journalists?"
Another journalist, confirming this opinion, added that, "I wanted to continue as a journalist after I was released from detention, but I was banned from practicing any type of journalism. Even the limited number of available independent news agencies could not offer me a job. What was I supposed to do to pay the bills? Journalism is my passion, yes, but I had to find a job. I started to work as a sales person, and every day I feel the gap between my passion and me is increasing. There is nothing that I can do about it. I have to live with the fact that I have a criminal record and a history of imprisonment, and therefore I can’t see any opportunity for me to work as a journalist again."
Over the past two years, the number of journalists who have court rulings against them, have just been released from detention, or the many more who are currently serving their sentences, increases by the day. One wonders whether, when these journalists are released, they will share with us their stories of what has happened to them. Will these journalists also adopt a different perspective on their profession?
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.