10 دی 1393

Freed journalist: “Prison made me more mature”

31 December 2014

Translated by:Mehrdad Safa

Khabarnegaran.info – Niki Azad: Ehsan Mehrabi is an Iranian journalist who served a one-year prison term following the 2009 public unrests. In an exclusive interview with Khabarnegaran.info, he tells us about things that he would later give a second thought after the jail. He used to write for Etemed Melli, Hambastegi and Tose’e newspapers and now lives in Germany.

Tell us about the change in your attitude toward journalism after the jail?

Many political and social activists were put in jail or executed after the 1979 Revolution. The mass arrests of journalists in 2009 made Iranian journalists more sensitive to the imprisonment of activists and also added to their level of awareness of prisons. In 2009, many prisoners who had lived under the dark shadow of silence for years came to the fore.

Did your journalism career change after your release from prison?

No difference in terms of the style. But personally, prison made me more mature. My political assumptions about the true nature and structure of power in the Islamic Republic have become more precise.

What exactly changed after you were released from prison?

One thing that I put more faith in was “accuracy” in reporting news about prisoners. Reporting false news would not help political and journalist prisoners.

What you want to say is that your time in prison made you reconsider the way of reporting news of human rights violation?

The current news on prisoners and human rights violations are most of the times flawed and inadequate.

What kind of flaws?

For example, their sentences or reasons given for their arrest are wrongly reported. Or some legal expressions or cited laws are inaccurate.

I think that journalists are responsible for the accuracy of their stories. Therefore, those reporters who cover the news of human rights violations should have proper knowledge about what is going on in the country’s prisons.

At the time of arrest, how did you feel about your profession? Did you look at it from a new angle?

On the first night of my arrest, the interrogator cited one of my reports on Ahmadinejad administration’s illegal withdrawal from Foreign Currency Reserve Account published in Etemad Melli newspaper. He referred to it as “demonization.” At that time, I felt that I would be always concerned about my articles.

In 2009, I had to publish a number of articles under pseudonyms. After I was released, I was under more obligation, and sometimes, it was no longer not something I had asked for; because many media were not willing to publish my articles, even non-political ones, under my real name.

So you had the experience of writing under pseudonym. Some people consider this an identity-killing writing. How did it affect you?

I, too, believe that writing under a pseudonym is kind of identity-killing, as there is no intellectual property for one’s works. On the other hand, if I had published those articles with my byline, a much heavier sentence would have been expecting me. But I have never wished that I had written more articles under pseudonym.

Do you want to disclose your pseudonym now?

Foreign-based Persian-language television and radio stations used titles such as “an eyewitness” or “a journalist who wanted to remain anonymous” for my reports on the post-election unrests. But many of my friends knew about this and, as a joke, called me “eyewitness” whenever they saw me.

You implied that journalists might think more about the repercussions of their articles after their release. Have you become more conservative after the prison? What about your fellow workers?

I never found a chance to restart a serious career in Iran-based media after my release. I don’t know if my fellow journalists have become more conservative after their release from prison. But I definitely know that a kind of fear will be with them for years.

What did you yourself experience after you were freed from jail?

I tried to remain a journalist after the prison. I also found out that journalists have a lesser degree of solidarity compared with other professions.

How are you continuing your journalism career now abroad?

I still work with Iranian media. At my age, it is rather difficult or sometimes impossible to write in a new language. In Germany, many native-speaker journalists are also jobless.

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