10/04/2005, 00.00
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Repression sneaks back into Iran

A young Iranian who fled persecution against the university movement he was a member of, tells AsiaNews about his first return trip home. He found freedom, the fruit of the Khatami government, but also the seeds of repression which Ahmadinejad wants to reap.

Milan (AsiaNews) – The first change in Iran "can be seen in the girls. They are more in evidence and they are aware of their rights. This is a very, very good thing, and yet I think the situation is going back to what it was". Yadahst is a 35-year-old Iranian who has lived in Italy for nearly a decade: he left his country to escape government pressure exerted on the student movement he belonged to. This summer, with the dawning of the Ahmadinejad administration, he returned to Iran to see what the situation was like in his country and to meet his family and friends once again.

He told AsiaNews: "Society has changed and it breathes the freedom brought by two terms of the Khatami government. The signs of enormous change can be seen when compared to the time when I had to escape. Western books as well as liberal Iranian ones can be found in libraries, music is heard in restaurants and no one stops people on the street to control their clothes and make-up anymore."

However, he is quick to add: "And yet, my impression is that the country is about to turn back. Even if there is more freedom and more awareness, there are signs of a return to power in the hands of the oligarchy. Many mayors and government structures in general have changed: current officials often come from the ranks of the pasdaran. The lack of uncontrolled information is strongly felt and the notorious press tribunal has been reinstated, virtually in silence. Perhaps the government is being more careful but it still has the closed, anti-democratic mentality of some of its predecessors." Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his ministers "say openly that their final aim is that of giving back to Islam a predominant role in the nation. For them, this is the right way ahead and they make no secret of it".

The same reversal is affecting the fortunes of religious minorities. There is one such minority in the country, the Baha'i, formed 150 years ago: very friendly to the Scia, they were an elite social class, rich, educated and highly cultured. In the time of Khomeini they were considered as an American "fifth column" and were consequently opposed and deprived of all their rights. With Ahmadinejad, they are now facing the same situation. They have no rights: they cannot vote, they cannot have a passport, they cannot go to university. They live in Iran but without the status, rights and guarantees granted to other citizens.

Continues Yadahst: "For the most part, Christians are Protestants and in some way they defend themselves: they do not feel very secure of their position and they react by refusing unknown people entry into their churches and their small communities. The government, on the other hand, totally forbids them from making propaganda and still less from proselytism. I wanted to go to a church but friends who were with me said it was not easy or prudent to do so. I would have to go to the Culture Ministry and ask for permission to go to church, pretending to be an art or sociology student."

On the question of atomic arms, the Iranians "are proud and they think they have struck a good deal with the world. In this the government was clever: it instilled a sense of national pride in the people. People do not think about the problem, they just say: 'Israel has atomic weapons, Pakistan too, why not us?' The nuclear question has been exploited to engender a sense of unreasonable nationalism." The move can be better understood if one recalls that "in his electoral campaign Ahmadinejad talked about the economy, about redressing social imbalances, about eliminating poverty; so far he has talked about nothing except the nuclear question".

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