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Ebadi: The voice of the Iranian people must be heard

By Shirin Ebadi, Special to CNN
  • Shirin Ebadi: There is extreme censorship in Iran, impacting all forms of media
  • Opposition faces violence, intimidation from the authorities, says Nobel Peace Prize winner
  • February 11 marks the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran
  • Opposition organizers have called for peaceful, non-violent protests

Editor's note: Dr. Shirin Ebadi is a human rights advocate and the recipient of the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize.

(CNN) -- This week two of Iran's most well-known clerics, Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani and Grand Ayatollah Mousavi Ardebili, who served as head of Iran's judiciary system under Ayatollah Khomeini's administration, have visited with the country's supreme leader Ali Khamenei.

Rafsanjani and Ardebili, both in favor of reform, cautioned Khamenei about the dire situation of the country and the serious consequences the government would have to face should the current circumstances continue.

Hashemi Rafsanjani also made a request for the release of Alireza Beheshti, senior aide to Mir Hossein Mousavi. Suffering from a heart condition while in prison, Beheshti is son of progressive clergy Ayatollah Beheshti, who was assassinated during a Mujahedin bombing during Khomeini's years in power.

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Despite Beheshti's release this week, the government continued its oppression on the reformists by arresting three journalists during the same week.

Currently, there are 65 Iranian journalists and photojournalists held in custody by the Islamic regime.

Video: Iran protests mark anniversary

According to Reporters Without Borders, Iran has the highest number of imprisoned journalists. Censorship exists in its most extreme form in Iran. All of the independent papers have been shut down, leaving only a few government-backed newspapers to report.

Radio and television are also government-run in Iran. The Iranian people's only uncensored connection to the rest of the world is, first, through the Internet and second, the Persian radio and TV stations broadcasting to Iran from abroad.

Whenever necessary, the Iranian government will see to slowing the Internet connections without hesitation to admit so. For instance, this week the communications minister in Iran announced that surely after the February 11 protests the Internet connection shall resume to its normal speed.

On days when higher levels of demonstrations and protests are experienced, cell phone connections are also interrupted in many parts of Iran. This is done mainly to cut off and prevent any form of communication with the outside world. News broadcasts such as BBC Persian and Voice Of America have been operating for some time now and serve as good means of alternative news for the Iranians. Both programs are highly popular across the Iranian borders.

In addition to regular arrests, the Iranian government has resorted to other tactics.
--Dr. Shirin Ebadi

Following the controversial elections in Iran this summer the government used "microwave technology" to jam satellite signals in efforts to stop all broadcasting, posing a serious health threat to the public. An interesting fact is that the Iranian government continuously accuses the British and U.S. governments, BBC and VOA as the main cause for the public demonstrations in Iran.

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Meanwhile the Iranian government broadcasts programs in multiple languages for many different countries and in doing so is essentially fully participating in what it claims to be unethical for other countries.

Most recently, in order to put more pressure on political and social dissidents, and in addition to regular arrests, the Iranian government has resorted to other tactics. For example, the government has been taking hostage and imprisoning the close relatives of these individuals to inflict more intimidation and psychological pressure, in order to have their demands met.

To illustrate these tactics I can point to the imprisonment of my own sister, Nushin Ebadi, who has no political associations, as well as the arrests of Mohammad Tavasoli's two daughters and Mir Hossein Mousavi's brother-in-law.

It is the accumulation of these circumstances that cause for an increase in the people's objection towards the government. On most days, families of prisoners gather outside the Evin prison where the majority of the political prisoners are held.

They face great violence by the government guards and are either beaten or arrested themselves, yet the next day the families will still gather and be present outside the Evin prison gates.

We must observe the peak of these demonstrations on February 11th, the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution's victory more than 30 years ago. On this day, the government of Iran has always called for public demonstrations in favor of the Islamic Republic and the people are taking advantage of this day to express their objections, too. There has been a call for demonstrations both from the government and the anti-government groups.

Organizers for the "Green Movement" have asked individuals to continue their participation in peaceful, non-violent demonstrations and express their objections by wearing the color green. There is a great chance for even more disturbances than what we have witnessed thus far.

We must remain hopeful for that day when the people's voice will be heard.