- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 10, 2003

Siamak Pourzand was abducted for the fourth time in 22 years by Iran’s internal security services on Nov. 22, 2001, this time charging him with having an affair with the receptionist of the cultural center he was running.

While in prison, the septuagenarian film critic and journalist was kept in a 6-by-6-foot cell with no windows.

His captors played recordings of imams reading from the Koran at all hours. He was shocked repeatedly by electric prods, and his guards occasionally urinated in his mouth.

He was released a year later, but only after appearing — somewhat lighter — on a national television show called “Second Identity,” where he was forced to admit he had ties with exiled monarchists.

“It is really tough to see a parent in that state,” said his daughter, Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi, fighting back tears.

Miss Zand-Bonazzi lives in New York and has not been in Iran for more than 20 years, but the experience of fighting for her father’s release from prison has reconnected her with her native land.

“I realized that in order to fight for my father, I had to fight for my country,” she said in an interview.

Now she and several other Iranian expatriates are working overtime to support the burgeoning democracy movement there.

Since the beginning of June, Miss Zand-Bonazzi has spent her evenings on the phone with her contacts in Iran, checking on the progress of the intermittent demonstrations.

A curator by trade, Miss Zand-Bonazzi is part of a network of Iranian-Americans trying to raise funds for individuals who have taken their cases to the Iranian diaspora. This network lobbies governments and persuades news organizations to withdraw support for the clerical regime in Tehran and the Shi’ite holy city of Qom.

Miss Zand-Bonazzi’s work could prove a critical link between Washington and Tehran as the National Security Council continues to debate the prudence of providing more direct U.S. support to indigenous demonstrations against the mullahs. Since November, an ambitious policy directive on Iran has been deadlocked in debate as the State Department and NSC staffers have attempted dialogue with the Iranian regime.

Miss Zand-Bonazzi and others have developed a network of 300 to 400 individuals on the ground in Iran who can distribute funds raised in the West.

“Over the last few years, a couple of hundred thousand dollars has been raised and sent to different leaders,” she said.

The choice for getting money to activists on the ground is often through simple wire transfers. Unlike in Iraq, where the state kept close tabs on money wired from the West, it is fairly easy to get amounts less than $1,000 to individuals in Iran without the government knowing about it.

Sometimes this process becomes corrupted. Miss Zand-Bonazzi says there have been instances of individuals pocketing cash meant for protesting students. She also harbors suspicion that agents of the Islamic Republic work in other Iranian-American organizations. “We have identified people working for the mullahs. We know who they are,” she said.

She also has worked closely with Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, and his staff on the passage of the Iran Democracy Act, which would create a $50 million fund largely for broadcasts from California into Iran through satellite television and radio stations.

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