‘It will be a long and difficult path, but we'll get there'

Iranian dissident Caspian Makan speaks out in memory of his slain fiancée, hopes for secular, democratic government in his country.

By RHONDA SPIVAK SPECIAL TO THE JERUSALEM POST
March 28, 2011 00:47
Iranian dissident Caspian Makan, Neda Agha-Soltan

Iranian dissident Caspian Makan, Neda Agha-Soltan 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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WINNIPEG – Caspian Makan, whose fiancée, Neda Agha- Soltan, was shot in cold blood on the streets of Tehran in the post-election protests of 2009, fled Iran through the mountains, partly on foot, after being jailed, tortured and finally released on bail.

Neda became a global symbol of the Iranian people’s quest for freedom. Makan, meanwhile, has been watching this year’s protests in Iran from his home in Canada, where he was granted political asylum.

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Neda’ s death on June 20, 2009, caught the attention of the world because her murder by Iranian police during protests after Iran’s fraudulent elections was caught on a cell phone video and broadcast throughout the world.

Makan produced a video as a tribute to Neda, releasing it on what would have been her 28th birthday on January 23, as a way for the world to remember her and her message.

Makan, who was jailed six days after Neda’s death in the notorious Evin Prison in Tehran, believes that there will “absolutely” be more protests against Ahmadinejad’s regime.

In an in-depth interview, conducted with the help of a Persian interpreter, Makan told the dramatic story of his imprisonment and escape from Iran and explained what he believes can be done to hasten the Iranian regime’s demise.

While living in Iran, Makan worked, from 1995, as an “independent writer, documentary filmmaker, professional photographer and journalist,” who “specialized in history and nature.” He worked both in Iran and various other countries.

Makan remembers well what befell him six days after Neda’s death, on June 26, 2009.

“I was arrested in my home while I was getting ready to go to Neda’s family’s home. My house, which was in Tehran, was surrounded by security forces and I was arrested and taken to the Evin Prison, where political prisoners are taken.

“I was also politically and socially active,” he says. “My activities included giving speeches, writing articles, taking pictures and making movies which sometimes resulted in my arrest and short-term incarceration. I had official memberships in various writers associations and photography associations, but I was never a member of any [political] group or organization and was always independent.”



After Neda’s burial, which took place 20 hours after her death, Makan “remained quiet and awaited the response of the regime,” but when there “was no logical reaction or response from them, and no satisfying answers, I started doing interviews against the Islamic regime.”

According to Makan, immediately after Neda’s death the regime forces threatened Neda’s family.

“The regime told Neda’s family they should not do any interviews about Neda’s death and could not give any opinions, because the regime wanted to write up a different and false scenario for Neda’s death. But by exposing the regime and giving interviews about how Neda was really killed, I did not allow the regime to be successful in their plans to hide the cause of Neda’s death.”

Makan says he first spoke about Neda being killed by “Islamic regime agents,” but then “I expanded [the scope] of my interviews to discuss the oppression of the Iranian people by the Islamic regime and the brutality of the regime, without censoring myself in any way. I also spoke against Mr. Khamenei and Mr. Ahmadinejad in regimesponsored media.”

Makan says he really wanted to let the people of the world know about the brutality of the regime and believes he succeeded, because while he was being tortured in prison, “they would tell me that the damage I had caused to the regime was irreparable.”

According to Makan, from the first day after Neda’s death up until his arrest, the “regime agents started asking many questions about my relationship with Neda.”

Although Makan had been arrested, a medical student, Arash Hejazi, who had been present at the scene of Neda’s death and had tried to save her, “continued to expose what had happened to Neda and how the regime was responsible for her death.”

Makan said that the regime tried to mislead and confuse people by suggesting that he and Neda had previously known Hejazi, which “was not the case.” Hejazi escaped to England.

Additionally, he said Neda’s music teacher, Hamid Panahi, who is now in Tehran and was the main witness to her assassination, was also arrested and jailed for “about a week.”

On being arrested, Makan faced a number of charges, including working to overthrow the regime and damaging its reputation irreparably. The regime’s agents said that they had four reasons to execute him.

“Firstly, I had conducted various interviews with international media against the Islamic regime and in support of the freedomloving people of Iran. Secondly I had exposed... [that] Neda had had been killed by regime agents.

“Thirdly, as a journalist… and responsible Iranian, I felt like I had to expose what… the regime was doing to the people. When they arrested me, they discovered and confiscated numerous notes and pictures about the murders and oppression by the Islamic regime… After my arrest, they found certain writings and pictures belonging to me which made it clear that I was opposed to the Islamic regime.

“Lastly, in various interviews with regime-owned media, I condemned the behavior of the heads of regime, including Mr. Khamenei and Mr. Ahmadinejad,” he says.

Another reason that Makan’s life was in danger was because, although he was born a Muslim, at age 30 he chose to become a Zoroastrian.

“According to Islamic law, changing one’s religion from Islam is punishable by death. The regime had documentation to that effect that I had changed my religion,” Makan says.

He adds that that after Neda’s death, he no longer believes in any religion.

While in prison, Makan was in solitary confinement, where he was “subjected to psychological torture, and thinking about it today is very difficult for me.”

Makan says that the Iranian regime wanted to convince him that Neda had been murdered by an exiled opposition group, the Mojahedine Khalq, rather than by the regime, and they promised to release him if he accepted this premise.

The regime wanted him “to say that Neda had been killed by the leaders of the green opposition,” and in return “they promised to give back everything they had confiscated” from him.

“They knew that the things they had confiscated from me were extremely precious… including my films and books I had written and many pictures I had taken professionally.”

But he refused their offer.

During his 65-day imprisonment, Makan believes the Iranian regime wanted to execute him, “but they realized that my death would expose their atrocities even more.

“They seemed confused, for example, when on two occasions individuals from the [Iranian] parliament came to see the situation of prisoners who had been arrested after the recent protests. They kept me hidden so that the parliament members would not become aware of my presence.

“The news about my arrest and detention was not circulated, because the regime severely threatened my family and my lawyer that if any information about my arrest was leaked [they said] that I would be executed immediately.”

According to Makan, when they didn’t hear from him, Neda’s family thought Makan had gone to Canada, because around that time he was to have traveled to Canada for two gallery showings of his work.

“Once they [Neda’s family] realized I had been arrested, they also put a lot of pressure on Islamic regime officials to release me.

“Right after my arrest, I called a journalist colleague and told her about my arrest, and she informed many international human rights groups, including Amnesty International... After Amnesty published a news report about my arrest, I was immediately released on bail. I was forced to undertake not to be involved in any political activity, not to leave the country and to wait for my trial and ultimate sentence.”

On being released, Makan says on one hand he “wanted to be dead, because I couldn’t imagine living in this world without Neda,” and yet on the other hand “I couldn’t believe that I was alive and I knew I wanted to continue in Neda’s path.”

Makan escaped Iran about two months after his release on bail. As he recalls, “Regime agents were everywhere and they were listening to all my phone calls, and I was being followed at all times. Nobody, even my closest friends, could communicate with me because of this situation. I was not able to accomplish anything, and most importantly I was not able to fight against this Islamic dictatorship regime.

“Worst of all, I had become aware that, once again, regime agents were going to arrest me, and this time they were determined to put enough pressure on me to force me to say that Neda had been killed with the order of [reformist leaders] Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi.”

Makan says that neither he nor Neda voted in the Iranian elections in June 2009, and he “did not and does not today support reformist leaders Mousavi and Karoubi.”

But he refused to agree with regime agents to say Neda had been killed on order of either of these men, as doing so still could have hurt the protest movement of the Iranian people.

“That’s when I decided to leave Iran illegally through the mountains and enter Turkey illegally,” he says.

After a five-day journey he arrived in Ankara, and after one month, he boarded a plane to Canada, which granted him asylum.

Makan does not want to give specifics of the route he took to escape, so that others in the future may also use it, but at one point it involved “walking on foot at night in the mountains for more than eight-and-a-half hours.”

Makan says before Neda’s death, he and Neda had planned to come to Canada for exhibits of Makan’s artistic works, “and Canada was a country we were considering to move to and live in for the rest of our lives.”

Although he is not a member of any group, as he wants to keep his independence, Makan supports “all groups that are against the Islamic regime” in Iran, and calls for complete regime change.

“I support a full overthrow of the Islamic regime, both the hard-liner and reformist factions of it. About 10 percent of the Iranian population lives outside of Iran, and almost 100% of Iranians have suffered at the hands of the regime. People have suffered economically, socially, politically, and so on...

“At least 1% of the Iranian population has been killed at the hands of this Islamic regime in one way or another… How can we logically expect or accept reform of this regime?” In his view, Iranians “have passed that stage” of being interested in reforming the regime.

“The majority of Iranians today know their rights and they know that they themselves have to replace the oppression and dictatorship in Iran. They are coming into the streets and chant for freedom and justice and have hope that they will be successful,” he says.

Makan believes that one of the most important ways to hasten the Iranian regime’s end is to find ways to break through the censorship Iran imposes on its people to prevent them from knowing about the ongoing human rights abuses and atrocities.

“We live in the 21st century with advanced technology such as satellite and Internet, and the international community could provide these things to the Iranian people in order to stop the censorship that is currently present in Iran,” he explains.

“Iranians need to know exactly what is going on behind the scenes in the Islamic regime and be aware of atrocities committed by the regime against the people.

The West also needs to stop making business deals with the regime, at least temporarily, in order to cripple the regime and prevent it from carrying out its functions. They can also cut all diplomatic relations with the regime,” he says.

“I don’t think the fall of the regime is very far. I think by the time Ahmadinejad’s presidency is over, with the bravery of the Iranian people, the regime will fall,” he adds.

Regarding US President Obama’s actions vis-à-vis Iran, Makan says, “President Barack Hussein Obama has not taken a strong stand against the [Iranian] regime… He should realize that holding dialogue with a murderous regime will not benefit his government or country, because the regime has come to the end of the road. Hopefully Obama and other government officials will support the [Iranian] people rather than the regime.

In comparing the recent upheaval in Egypt to the situation in Iran, Makan says, “The current revolution in Egypt is similar to the Iranian revolution of 1979 but not to the current movement in Iran, which is very different from the revolution in Egypt.

“It’s true that the people of Tunisia and Egypt quickly reached their demand of overthrowing the government. Of course, we have to watch and see whether the future governments of these countries will truly be democratic or will become Islamic governments,” he continues.

“Unfortunately the Islamic regime in Iran is very different from other governments. This government easily kills its own citizens, tortures, rapes and imprisons them, and this is a difficulty faced by the Iranian people; this is why they require support as well as unity among groups and organizations.”

He believes that the people of Iran, like the people of any other country, must decide “their own future.”

He says that “no other country has the right to get involved,” but “every country has the responsibility to support Iranians demand for freedom.”

Makan visited Israel in March, meeting President Shimon Peres and other officials.

“Israel is a big enemy for the [Iranian] Islamic regime, an enemy they use to further their own agenda, including spreading Islam and Islamic governments in the Middle East.

“With my visit to Israel, I wanted to show the people of Iran that Israel does not have any animosity toward the Iranian people, and the only animosity that exists comes from the Islamic regime.”

Makan says “Iranians themselves do not want war… with Israel. I went to Israel to show these realities and show the world that Iranians are peaceful people… The ideas of war and terrorism do not belong to the Iranian people but to the Islamic regime.”

Makan hopes that Iran’s future government will be secular and democratic.

“This will be the greatest victory for the people of Iran. It will be a long and difficult path, but with the help of thousands of Nedas, we will get there.”

The writer is the editor of an epaper, the Winnipeg Jewish Review; www.winnipegjewishreview.com

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