Nearly four years have passed since the birth of Iran’s green movement. Arising from the massive street protests against the official results of the 2009 presidential election, it endured brutal repression and finally receded in the face of arrests, beatings, and torture. Three of its most prominent figures – Mir-Hossein Mousavi, his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, and Mehdi Karroubi – have been under house arrest for more than two years. Other movement leaders are in prison or exile. According to a recent report by the Committee to Protect Journalists, Iranian authorities are holding at least 40 journalists in prison as the June presidential election approaches, the second-highest total in the world. But what has become of others in the movement’s middle ranks inside the country, the political activists and journalists who stayed back?
I meet up with Arash – not his real name – by a newsstand on Tehran’s Enghelab Avenue. He has written for several of the newspapers that passersby are perusing on their way to work. As we walk to a nearby cafe, I ask what drew him to journalism. “Actually, I wanted to be a lawyer,” he replies. “But I was looking for an identity, I wanted to be a part of what the majority of Iranians were experiencing. I saw that in journalism.”
After the 1997 election, which swept the reformist Mohammad Khatami to the presidency, many young Iranians began to define their identities through social action. “Some joined political parties,” Arash explains, “others became involved in university associations. I started working as a journalist in the spring of 2000.”
Early that May, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, vexed by the Khatami administration’s relaxation of state media control and censorship, ordered the judiciary to shut dozens of reformist papers in a single day; scores of prominent journalists were arrested in the raids. It was not a good time to set out in the field. Was he afraid?