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SPIEGEL ONLINE

07/28/2011 01:11 PM

Tehran Diary

'We Drink to the Freedom that Will Come One Day'

It has been two years since the disputed presidential elections in Iran, which sparked street protests leading to dozens of deaths and countless arrests. The opposition is in disarray and the government seems stronger than ever. Four Tehran residents give a glimpse into life in the Islamic Republic in diary entries they wrote for SPIEGEL.

In the summer of 2009, millions of Iranians held demonstrations calling for more democracy and freedom of expression. More than 70 people died in the uprising associated with the Green Movement headed by opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi.

Two years later, the leadership seems strengthened, despite all the power struggles, while the opposition appears to have been shattered. Four Iranians recorded their concerns and hopes during the last week of June for SPIEGEL. Their words paint a picture of life in the Islamic Republic.


Friday, June 24, 2011

The European Union imposes travel bans on three commanders of Iran 's Revolutionary Guard suspected of helping Syrian dictator Bashar Assad to suppress the uprisings against his regime. The arrest of photojournalist Maryam Majd, who had intended to fly to Germany a week earlier to photograph the Women's Football World Cup, comes to light.

Massih Talebian, the engineer. On our holidays, I am usually responsible for the food. That's why we are barbecuing today. We are a large family, which means that it costs me almost 500,000 rial (€31 or $44), for lamb and chicken alone. During the meal, we mostly talk about all the things that have become more expensive.

The government has slashed subsidies, and now only the needy receive monthly cash payments. First my new natural gas bill was 10 times higher than before. But then the next one was twice as high as that one. Now I pay 1.5 million rial, or about €100, every month.

My son-in-law says that his father, who is a teacher, receives enough support to pay the higher bills. Besides, he says, his father thinks it's good that the prices force us to think about using energy more carefully. It's true that we Iranians are very wasteful.

Samaneh Ahmadian, the artist. It's very late by the time I wake up, already well after noon. How nice, I think, because I don't know what to do with myself on a day like today. I go out to order a stew at a restaurant, then I go to a café. I treat myself to a shared taxi.

My father can still support me with money. He gives me four million rial a month, or about €250. That's a lot of money, but it's still not enough, now that things have become so expensive here. He studied in the United States. I was born there and spent my first few years in Mississippi. My father worked there as an engineer. The US space agency, NASA, offered him a job, but he wanted to help develop his country instead. My parents returned in 1998, and I came to Tehran with them. My father was a university professor. Later on, he had his own company and was very successful. Now he is no longer doing well financially.

In the evening, I spend a lot of time surfing the Internet, looking at the websites of dance schools in New York. But I'm not happy with my classes here at all. Most of the professors have no clue, and yet they make it clear to us students that they consider us to be fools. The only professor I truly admire and respect is leaving the country.

Kouhyar Goudarzi, the activist. I feel very weak this morning. It's the second day of my hunger strike, which I'm doing out of solidarity with my friends in prison. All it takes to be put behind bars is to clearly voice one's criticism or attend protests. I've been out for the last seven months, but you always have one foot in prison if you campaign for human rights and are politically involved.

I have to go visit some friends. There isn't much going on in the streets. Most people don't look very happy. It's been very hot, and both women and men are wearing lighter clothing. The morality police are harassing them even more than usual.

We discuss the fate of our friend Hoda Saber, who died in prison. The official story is that he died of heart failure as a result of his hunger strike. I was in a cell with him. Hoda was a good person.

Ghazaleh Zarea, the social worker. It was a good idea to drive to my parents' house in Khorramabad in the western part of the country. The air is better here, and I feel freer. In Tehran, I'm afraid to walk in the streets without a chador. The morality police have become stricter. They've already spoken to me in the capital, because I wasn't wearing the dark robe and was supposedly dressed indecently.

Out here I can visit girlfriends and talk about the past. It's nice to talk about old times rather than the present, which is so painful. I was active for Mousavi before the presidential election, when I ran a campaign center. Now I'm not part of it anymore. What's going on in the heads of our politicians? Why is opposition leader Karroubi calling on people to revolt? Is he interested in the people or his own power? I hate violence anywhere in the world. Mahatma Gandhi is my role model. Former President Mohammad Khatami also impressed me with his levelheadedness.

I would like to publish my thoughts so I could see what others think about them. But we hardly have any publications anymore that print critical ideas.

'A Bitter Disappointment Awaits Me at Work'

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The government stages an anti-terror summit in Tehran , attended by the presidents of Afghanistan , Pakistan , Iraq and Sudan . Iran accuses the United States of aggravating the security situation in the region through its military presence.

Ghazaleh Zarea, the social worker. I drive to the University of Khorramabad, where I will supervise an examination, even though I don't like playing the supervisor. But I'm doing a friend a favor, and I can use the money. Many people become overbearing in such positions and humiliate others. But whether it's a small group or an entire people, there are always two sides to everything. If our young people would make more of an effort, we would have more experts. That would be good for our people.

On the way home I see a drug addict with her baby. She is begging by the side of the road. We have so many drug addicts. Here in Khorramabad, we have established an organization specifically for such women as a private initiative.

Kouhyar Goudarzi, the activist. I'm addicted to the Internet. I'm on my laptop as soon as I get up in the morning. Many people are replacing their profiles on Facebook with photos of prisoners.

A friend and I make solidarity visits. At an intersection, we watch the morality police rudely reprimanding a young woman. The parents of Ali Akbar, who has been in prison for almost five months now, talk to me about my hunger strike. They heard about me on a foreign TV channel. We talk about the fact that five of the 19 people on hunger strike are doing very poorly. They were admitted to the hospital. My stomach ache is nothing by comparison.

Massih Talebian, the engineer. A bitter disappointment awaits me at work. I have been trying to import technical equipment from Europe for the last four months. To that end, I transferred €100,000 to a money transfer office in Dubai. The money was intended for a bank in Germany. Now I read in my email that the bank is not accepting my money, because of the embargo. The unsuccessful transaction will cost me 15 percent of the total sum.


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Former President Khatami, who is closely aligned with the reformers, calls upon imprisoned members of the opposition to end their hunger strike to protest the deaths of dissidents. The military leadership announces that the 10-day "Great Prophet 6" maneuvers will begin on Monday. According to Western experts, missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads will also be tested during the maneuvers.

Samaneh Ahmadian, the artist. I meet with some girlfriends in a café. It's in a predominantly Christian neighborhood. People are more lenient there, and they don't bother us when we smoke.

We're all talking about the same thing today: Revolutionary Guards allegedly filmed bathers at a women's swimming pool. It's a scandal and the talk of the town, even if the women were wearing bathing suits. I only talk about politics with people I can completely trust. There aren't many of them. There was never room for politics in my family.

Massih Talebian, the engineer. There is good news at breakfast today. My wife, who works in a real estate agency, says that business is going very well. Many people are selling their houses and apartments because they want to leave Iran. Others have enough money to buy real estate. Where does the money come from? For self-employed people like me, our expenses are gradually becoming larger than our income.

Ghazaleh Zarea, the social worker. I take the bus back to Tehran. The man sitting in front of me is talking loudly on the phone. He says that he is on his way to a conference on moral depravity. The woman sitting next to me looks at me and quietly tells me about a pair of siblings she knows who were arrested on the street, because they had been taken for a couple. They were interrogated separately and asked about their families. The girl said she had two uncles and the boy said he had three. For that reason, the officials didn't believe that they were brother and sister. Only after many hours was the father able to get them out of jail and clear up the contradiction in their stories. The girl, the younger of the two, had never met the third uncle because he had died young.

Perhaps the man in front of us is one of those people responsible for such cases. The closer we get to Tehran, the tenser I feel.

'Reality Is Like a Hammer Falling on Your Head'

Monday, June 27, 2011

Oil Minister Mohammed Aliabadi acknowledges differences of opinion with Saudi Arabia within OPEC, because Riyadh , unlike Tehran , is willing to increase production to avert further price increases. Iran's parliament, the Majlis, votes to summon President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad within a month so that he can account for his controversial policy before the members. The director of the renowned Sharif University in Tehran announces that male and female first-year students will attend separate lectures and classes.

Kouhyar Goudarzi, the activist. I made phone calls on the Internet all night long. It's very cheap and the advantage is that it isn't so easy to listen in on conversations. There is a lot to discuss, and we want to keep it to ourselves.

Today is visiting day at Evin Prison. The family members return at around noon and report that the prisoners have ended their hunger strike. Now I can eat something again. I treat myself to a hamburger.

I still have to prepare a few workshops I plan to give. In the seminars, fellow human rights activists learn how to behave during interrogations and how best to survive solitary confinement. Some friends and I are also preparing an event on the death penalty. This is important in a country where more people are still being hung than elsewhere in the world, often in public.

We celebrate in the evening, even though I don't have the time. I urgently need to earn some money by translating articles about information technology. But we are so happy about the hunger strike coming to an end. We drink to the political prisoners, and to the martyrs of our movement, like Neda and Hoda. We drink to the freedom that will most certainly come one day.

Massih Talebian, the engineer. There is trouble in the office again. A company in Europe is refusing to ship us a device for a gas facility. The company is not allowed to ship it to Iran, but then it agrees to at least ship it to an address in Dubai. Everything has to be paid for in advance, however. The Iranian company doesn't want to pay until the product has arrived in our port city, Bandar Abbas. What on earth can I do? My Iranian customers are in denial about the embargo.

I forget about the problem for a while and look forward to spending the afternoon in a literature workshop, where the Japanese poems known as haiku will be read. I am comforted by verses like one by Kobayashi Issa: "In this world we walk on the roof of hell, gazing at flowers."

Ghazaleh Zarea, the social worker. I apply for a permanent job at various companies. As soon as the men discover that I am a civic-minded woman, my prospects disappear. At home, I am writing my screenplay project about three generations of women. I paid for the printing costs of my last book out of my own pocket. But as an author I'm not giving up hope.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

On state television, the military shows underground silos for missiles, including the Shahab-3, which, with a range of almost 2,000 kilometers, is capable of reaching Israel . The government refuses to meet with the new UN special rapporteur for human rights in Iran . It views his appointment as a "political measure" by the United States , claiming its sole purpose is to criticize Tehran .

Massih Talebian, the engineer. My wife's real estate company will probably sell an apartment in Niavaran, a very upscale neighborhood where the palaces of the shah, who was deposed in 1979, are located. The 500-square-meter (5,400-square-foot) penthouse is priced at the equivalent of €3.5 million. I'd like to know who has that much money and how you make it. In any case, it'll yield a handsome commission.

I'm worried about our company. My contacts at the government-owned companies are constantly sending me lists of equipment they urgently need. But they really ought to know that we can't get many of these things because they fall under the embargo. These lists go to so many Iranian companies, who then all try to get the equipment, that our business has become very tough.

Samaneh Ahmadian, the artist. Reality is like a hammer falling on your head. Now they want to hold lectures separated by gender at our university. Either only men or only women would attend lectures on certain days of the week. This is supposed to happen throughout the entire country. I can't believe it.

Ghazaleh Zarea, the social worker. On the way to the bank, where I plan to apply for a loan for our charitable organization, I look at the faces of many mothers and fathers whose children aren't getting enough to eat. I talk to a nine-year-old girl who doesn't go to school at all. She helps her mother with odd jobs in a restaurant. The father fell from scaffolding while on the job. Now the mother has to support all four children, and none of them is going to school. They have no money to buy the books.

'My Body Feels Practically Electrified'

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

President Ahmadinejad objects to "politically motivated" arrests of advisers associated with him, who are being accused of corruption, and insists that they are innocent. In London , Foreign Secretary William Hague announces that British intelligence has discovered that Iran is secretly building launch vehicles for nuclear warheads, once again violating United Nations Security Council resolutions.

Ghazaleh Zarea, the social worker. I'm going to the Majlis, our parliament. I hope to receive some support for our aid organization. In front of the building, I meet a woman who is begging for mercy for her drug-addicted son, who is in prison. A father is requesting assistance for his three children. They all have university degrees but can't find jobs. A woman who works as a public servant tells me that she has been coming here for a year and a half, because she wants to be transferred to the city where her husband works. I have the feeling that thousands have gathered here, searching for support. I feel discouraged and go home.


Thursday, June 30, 2011

In a letter to the UN human rights envoy for Iran, the families of US citizens Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, who have been imprisoned in Tehran on espionage charges for almost two years, claim that the two men had been tortured. The Iranian attorney Shirin Ebadi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who is currently in exile, predicts the overthrow of the system in Tehran .

Samaneh Ahmadian, the artist. I go to my girlfriend's café. An acquaintance is making a video, in which I take part. That makes me happy. I meet my friend Sherwin. He touches me on the neck, in the middle of the city. My body feels practically electrified.

Massih Talebian, the engineer. I have to work, even though it's just answering emails. I try to explain the problems we are having with the embargo to my business partners. We could set up a shell company in a neighboring country, so that we could somehow get the equipment to Iran from there. Would this be an option? My emails don't solve the problems, but they remove a burden from my soul.

Ghazaleh Zarea, the social worker. You can live well here, as long as you don't think about things. But the holidays are horrible. They seduce you into thinking. The programs on TV offer no distraction. I work on my screenplay. I think about censorship. Anyone who hopes to find answers in the books that have gone through our censors is often disappointed. But everything has its time, and I'm a patient person.

Kouhyar Goudarzi, the activist. My friend Mahan has taken his first vacation after seven years in prison. We want to drive to the Caspian Sea. But we should have known better. Everyone wants to get out of Tehran, even though gasoline has got so expensive now that subsidies have been cut. Men stand along the side of the road selling gasoline in canisters. They want twice as much as the gas stations charge. But at least you don't have to wait in the long lines.

I'm at the sea for the first time in nine years. Iran can be so beautiful. But all Mahan and I do is talk about our common friends in prison and those who have already left Iran.

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