Winter 2016
Number 30

Iran’s Captive Voices

Vahid Asghari

TEHRAN—In September, the last political prisoner who believed in the Islamic Revolution died in my prison. He was in his fifties, and he was the opposite of the reformists that make up the majority of those incarcerated by the Iranian regime currently. Those prisoners do not believe in Khomeini’s revolution, and have put forth plans for reforming the Islamic Republic.

I am one of them. Eight years ago, I was arrested by the Basij, Iran’s brutal domestic militia, for my subversive ideas about Iran’s future. The regime’s security forces charged that I had become corrupted by foreign media pressure, and was a pawn in the West’s attempt to foment a “soft war” of ideas inside the country.

But my intellectual evolution was anything but artificial. In my career as a journalist, I had visited and interviewed more than ten thousand dissidents, reporters and human rights activists about the pressure they faced from the government, and what political change they were demanding. In many cases, I spent more time with them than their own families, and this provided me with an opportunity to understand their thinking.

Their argument was clear—and compelling. They rejected the Islamic Republic as an artificial, inauthentic edifice, and resented the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini for deceiving them both before and after the revolution. Their opposition came in many forms: leftists, monarchists, separatists and Mujahedin-e Khalq.

Today, there is no viable alternative to the Islamic Republic. Most of the regime’s political opponents have been relegated to the margins of national politics—or to prison, where many have undergone a process of radicalization. For most of us behind bars who remain committed to the principles of democracy and freedom, there is only one way to fight the Islamic Republic and its ideological agenda: through education.

We have discovered that people must be stripped of their traditions and superstitions, and informed about the true political direction and ideology of the regime that governs them. We have researched, studied and organized workshops in political wards to promote modernist ideas. We have supported dissidents and human rights activists on the Internet to raise awareness about the repressive religious nature of the state, its rigid rules and human rights violations. In return, I and other dissidents have been arrested, tortured and sentenced to death.

The regime’s reactions demonstrate the depths of its fear. In today’s information age, with the availability of the Internet and social media, it has become more and more difficult to deceive the people.

This environment has also given us new avenues to disseminate our ideas. We do not support religious government. We demand a free civil society. We seek democracy and freedom in a nonviolent way. Most of all, we want peace inside and outside of our borders. The only way that we can achieve it is by empowering our civil society.

Vahid Asghari is an Iranian journalist currently imprisoned in Tehran.