By Mahmoud Hakamian
So far as Iranian affairs are concerned, 2018 has been different than any year since the inception of the clerical regime in 1979. This year has been defined by anti-government protests and strikes that have continued in various shapes and forms despite a heavy crackdown, waves of arrests, killings, and long prison terms for protesters.
The trend of events defied the assessment of many Western pundits and experts who had predicted the regime would find a way to contain the situation even as dissent became more widespread and more frequent than it had been for four decades.
One indicator of the changing times is the growing role of Iranian dissidents, namely the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK). Tehran has put aside the years-long policy of portraying the organized resistance as irrelevant and inconsequential, and Tehran’s power players have been talking much more frequently about the opposition. With a faltering economy and growing regional and international isolation, it seems the mullahs’ crisis is going to accelerate.
As Iran moves towards a showdown with the people and the opposition on the one side and the regime on the other, one area of the raging battle is on the field of public information.
The Iranian regime, the world record holder for annual number of executions per capita and the main state-sponsor of terrorism and Islamic extremism, deprives the Iranian people of their most basic rights. Widespread repression and censorship of the media prevent the people and particularly the youth of the nation from having free access to news and information. This is particularly true at present, as the regime struggles to contain unrest.
As such, the independent TV network known in Farsi as Simay Azadi and in English as Iran National Television stands out.
It is a 24-hour satellite TV channel that covers Iran and the Middle East. The network, reaches an audience inside Iran via satellite receiver equipment that is illegal to own or operate in the country. In spite of this restriction, millions of Iranians reportedly defy the ban, even re-acquiring such equipment after mass confiscation efforts by government authorities.
This network has been working for more than three decades to broadcast the facts as they are and to defend the Iranian people’s interests and cry for access to free and uncensored information.
Simay Azadi is the only Persian-language network that carefully and immediately conveys factual, uncensored news, including the news of the protests and strikes, as well as remarks of the regime’s most senior officials and sentiments of various social strata of the Iranian society.
The network exposes in detail the Iranian regime’s meddling in regional countries, focusing on its crimes in Syria but also discussing Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, and more. The mullahs have tried in various ways to silence the voice of independent media that disrupts their oppression and their conspiracy of silence. However, despite all the repression they face, the numbers of viewers for Simay Azadi has been constantly on the rise in recent years.
In that time, many citizen journalists’ of Simay Azadi’s nationwide network have been arrested, imprisoned and tortured and some of them have even been executed on charges of cooperating with the network or delivering video clips and news to it regarding popular protests inside Iran.
Nevertheless, Simay Azadi has continued to play a pivotal role in obtaining first hand, uncensored news from throughout the country and relaying it to Iranians in real time. In fact, this role has only grown more prominent despite the repression. Simay Azadi has devoted around-the-clock coverage to main developments including the protests, and Iranians have reached out to this TV with breaking news.
Relying on volunteer technical and support staff, the non-profit TV network has been able to continue its work with financing from Iranian citizens and Iranian expatriates. Over the years, Simay Azadi has organized 22 pledge drives appealing directly to the people for their financial contributions. This weekend it launches its 23rd telethon, the first since the onset of the uprising in Dec 2017.
During each telethon, thousands of people from all over Iran and the world have expressed their support for activities to continue against the mullahs’ censorship. The amounts of these contributions range from 10 dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the overall total reaches into the millions, vividly reflecting Iranians’ desire for freedom.
Independent media, including Simay Azadi and its fundraising campaign signify a broader conflict between the Iranian public and the regime’s attempts to control the flow of information.
As Iran is heading to a showdown between the people and the regime, the role of independent media is becoming more significant. The international community should stand with the Iranians and their attempts to break the yoke of the ayatollahs – an effort in which entities like Simay Azadi play more significant roles than ever.