January 19, 2005


An Iranian Cleric Turns Blogger for Reform (NAZILA FATHI, 1/16/05, NY Times)

Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a vice president of Iran until his resignation last fall in protest against the new hard-line Parliament, is that rare reformist who has kept alive the movement's promise for open communications with the public.

For more than a year, Mr. Abtahi, a midranking cleric who has been a close ally and confidant of President Mohammad Khatami, has kept a Web log to share his views and reach out to others who use the Internet. [...]

His blog, webneveshteha.com (the name means Web log writings in Farsi), has become one of the most popular Iranian sites. It has been attacked by hackers several times, apparently in some instances by people who take issue with its content. Many political sites and blogs focusing on Iran both inside the country and outside have links to his site.

"His Web site is politically very important," said Roozbeh Mirebrahimi, a blogger who was imprisoned for two months last year as part of a crackdown on free expression, which Mr. Abtahi has so far escaped. "His inside stories about the president and the cabinet aroused sympathy among people."

Mr. Mirebrahimi added that as an official, Mr. Abtahi "has given legitimacy to Web logs and has proven that Web logs are not tools for the opposition to overthrow the regime."

Mr. Abtahi said that he learned through the Internet about the huge gap between government officials and the younger generation.

"We do not understand each other and cannot have a dialogue," he said. "As government officials, we receive a lot of confidential reports about what goes on in society. But I have felt that I learned a lot more about people and the younger generation by reading their Web logs and receiving about 40 to 50 e-mails every day. This is so different than reading about society in those bulletins from behind our desks." [...]

[H]e has strayed into deeply serious subjects. At a time when telling the truth can result in a prison term, Mr. Abtahi wrote recently on his Web site about what happened to journalists and bloggers who were jailed for a period in the fall. They were beaten so severely that the nose of one woman was broken, and they were put in solitary confinement for most of their detention, he wrote.

Then he wrote that at a meeting with two of the released detainees, which a hard-line Tehran prosecutor, Saeed Mortazavi, also attended, two journalists had revealed such horrifying details that their account brought tears to the eyes of others in the room.

"We had to give them water so that they could get hold of themselves and continue," wrote Mr. Abtahi, who attended the meeting as Mr. Khatami's representative.

Mr. Mortazavi had warned the released detainees not to talk about their experience, and Mr. Abtahi was summoned to the Special Court of Clergy shortly after he wrote about the meeting.

But after Mr. Abtahi wrote about it, Mr. Khatami and the chief of the Iranian judiciary, Ayatollah Mahmoud Shahroudi, personally promised to follow up on the accusations.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 19, 2005 10:53 PM
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