Channel 4 gives prime time to President Ahmadinejad - torturer, murderer, racist
Ahmadinejad's Christmas message was an insult to the 100,000 Iranians who have been murdered since the Islamists seized power in 1979
By Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner
Channel Four handed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran a propaganda victory when it broadcast his Alternative Christmas Message.
Giving him a prime-time television slot, he was able to pose, unchallenged, as a defender of justice and peace - despite the Iranian regime's grisly human rights record, which includes the execution of children, women, students, journalists, Sunni Muslims, gay people, political activists and ethnic minorities.
Ahmadinejad's Christmas Day broadcast was a sick joke. It was the equivalent of giving a propaganda platform to Tony Blair, Vladimir Putin, Ariel Sharon, Omar al-Bashir, Henry Kissinger, General Than Shwe or George Bush, so they could pose as men of peace and human rights defenders.
Whatever next? Will President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe be invited to deliver the Alternative Christmas Message next year and be given free rein to whitewash his policies of kidnapping, rape, torture, murder, starvation and disease?
I have no objection to news coverage of the Iranian President's views and policies. As a national leader, what he says and does merits reportage. But giving him the Christmas message slot, which is prestigious and high-profile, is a step too far. Apart from this being an honour that he is unworthy of receiving, he was on prime-time television without any exposure of the contradiction between his professed views and his actual policies.
Dorothy Byrne, head of news and current affairs at Channel 4, justified the decision to broadcast him as follows:
"As the leader of one of the most powerful states in the Middle East, President Ahmadinejad's views are enormously influential. As we approach a critical time in international relations, we are offering our viewers an insight into an alternative world view."
Really? The Iranian President's message revealed very little about his world view or policies. It was religious and state propaganda, carefully scripted by the Foreign Ministry in Tehran. Ahmadinejad told us what he wanted us to hear. It was a con - a manufactured message of conciliation, goodwill and moderation deliberately designed to disarm us and to disguise the brutal reality of his regime. It had echoes of the propagandist newsreels of Joseph Stalin, where he portrayed himself as a kind and much loved leader of the Soviet people.
These are some of the key extracts from Ahmadinejad's broadcast Christmas message:
"Jesus, the Son of Mary, is the standard bearer of justice, of love for our fellow human beings, of the fight against tyranny, discrimination and injustice....
"If Christ were on earth today, undoubtedly He would hoist the banner of justice and love for humanity to oppose warmongers, occupiers, terrorists and bullies the world over....
"I pray for the New Year to be a year of happiness, prosperity, peace and brotherhood for humanity."
Fine words, shame about the reality. Ahmadinejad may talk of peace and justice, but his apparently reasonable words are a propagandistic smokescreen. What counts are not words but actions. The President's actions against his own people are devoid of love, mercy, justice, humanity and brotherhood. They are characterised by the savage repression of all dissenters and non-conformists.
Trade unionists, students, journalists, women's rights campaigners - even lawyers and
human rights defenders - are imprisoned and tortured.
His government is also pursuing a racist, ethnic persecution policy against Iran's minority nationalities, such as the Arabs, Kurds and Baluchs.
There were no apologies for these crimes against humanity in the President's broadcast. If there had been a genuine apology, Channel Four would have been justified in giving him the Christmas slot and I would have supported that decision. But that is not what happened and it was never going to happen.
Channel Four has been more than suckered. It has colluded with a tyrant; allowing itself to be used to promote the leader a cruel, heartless regime. What makes it worse is that the whole scenario appears to have to be contrived in a cynical bid to stir controversy and boost ratings.
Rewarding Ahmadinejad with a top place in the Christmas Day schedule is an insult to the estimated 100,000 Iranian dissidents who have been murdered since the Islamic fundamentalists seized power in 1979.
The channel's executives would not have given Ahmadinejad this platform if it was their partners or children who were being tortured in Evin prison, Tehran.
This Christmas, thousands of Iranian families are grieving and mourning. Their loved ones have been jailed, tortured and hanged. Instead of inviting them to deliver the Alternative Christmas Message, Channel 4 gave airtime to the man responsible for their loved ones' pain, suffering and death.
According to Human Rights Watch, in March this year an Iranian parliament member, Hossein Ali Shahryari, confirmed that 700 people were awaiting execution in Sistan and Baluchistan province, which is only one of Iran's 30 provinces. Many of those on death row are Baluch political prisoners. This staggering number of death sentences is evidence of the intense, violent repression that is taking place under the leadership of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The regime's terror is wide-ranging. Student leader Meisam Lofti was executed last year on false charges of being a gang member.
Members of minority faiths, like the
Baha'is and, sometimes,
Sunni Muslims, suffer severe harassment.
The regime's crackdown includes the enforcement of harsh morality laws. In 2004, in the city of Neka, a 16 year old girl, Atefah Rajabi Sahaaleh, who had been raped and sexually abused by men for many years, was convicted of "crimes against chastity." She was hanged by the method of slow, painful strangulation, hoisted by a crane in a public square.
This strangulation technique, sanctioned by the Iranian President, is deliberately designed to prolong the suffering of the victim. As you can see on the link below, the hanged person is left dangling and writhing for several minutes before they eventually asphyxiate and die.
Labour activists are also victimised. Mansour Osanloo, leader of Tehran's bus workers syndicate, remains in jail - together with other trade unionists. He was sentenced to five years jail in July 2007 for his defence of worker's rights.
Oppressing his own people is not enough for Ahmadinejad. His regime also exports suffering abroad. It supports the Hizbullah fundamentalists in Lebanon, who, like Israel, indiscriminately attack civilian areas.
In addition, many of the death squads in Iraq are trained, armed and funded by
These include ex-Badr Brigade members who, during the misrule of Saddam Hussein, lived and trained across the border in south-east Iran. Nowadays, they assassinate political, sexual and religious dissidents; usually gunning them down in their house, workplace or street. No trial. No evidence. Summary execution, aided by Ahmadinejad's government.
Despite persecuting the Iranian people and supporting terror groups abroad, Channel Four chose to give a platform to the tyrant of Tehran. Wrong move. Instead of putting President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Channel Four, he should be put on trial at The Hague (along with George Bush and many others).
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