While American news outlets fixate on the 16 words spoken by President Bush about Iraqi efforts to acquire uranium during the State of the Union address (three months after Congress voted to authorize the use of force), they have largely ignored a far more important story from that region of the world: the efforts of the people of Iran to overthrow an oppressive dictatorship, and the regime’s brutal efforts to hang on to power, which now may include the murder of a Canadian journalist by Iranian security forces.
The situation in Iran has major geopolitical implications for the United States. With the demise of Saddam Hussein, Tehran is indisputably the world’s leading supporter of international terrorism and a determined foe of U.S. efforts to bring peace to the Middle East. The regime has chemical and biological weapons, and could produce nuclear weapons in the next few years. With more than 150,000 U.S. troops stationed in neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan, few developments would be more beneficial to American foreign policy interests than the replacement of the current government with a democratic one that is pro-Western in orientation.
In June, during 10 nights of mass protests throughout the country, police arrested 4,000 people — virtually all of whom remain behind bars. Vigilantes supported by the regime played a critical role in suppressing the demonstrations; some members of these groups reportedly invaded campus dormitories in order to beat student protesters in their beds. On July 9, hundreds of police officers and vigilantes surrounded Tehran University, where they arrested three student leaders after they had cancelled plans to hold a sit-in to protest against the repressive Islamic dictatorship in Tehran.
The paranoia and brutality of Iranian security forces had horrific consequences for Canadian photo journalist Zahra Kazemi. Kazemi, 54, was arrested June 23 while taking pictures outside Evin prison near Tehran, where many of those arrested are believed to be held. Iranian officials initially claimed she suffered a stroke during her interrogation; now, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi says she may have died of a fractured skull after having fallen “accidentally.” But the French newspaper Liberation reported last week that Kazemi (a Quebec resident with joint Canadian and Iranian citizenship) suffered the skull fracture after being beaten in the head with a shoe by an interrogator — an Iranian security official. The news of Kazemi’s death could seriously damage relations between Tehran and the government of Prime Minister Jean Chretien, which has sought warmer ties with the current Iranian regime. Ottawa has warned that relations between the two countries could be jeopardized if Iran fails to return Kazemi’s body and explain the circumstances of her death.
What’s remarkable thus far is how little attention the democracy protests and the abysmal human rights situation in Iran have received from the three major networks: From the beginning of June through Thursday night, ABC, NBC and CBS evening news programs devoted less than nine minutes of air time to the human rights situation in Iran — a mere 11 seconds a night. Given the huge geopolitical implications for the United States, it surely deserves more serious, comprehensive coverage. For more information on the Iranian pro-democracy protests, see the Web site: www.daneshjoo.org.