Adnan Hassanpour is a Kurd Iranian journalist who has lived in the MDJ for two months. Facing the revolution that is shaking the Iranian power for three months, he gave us an interview to return to the origins and possible outcomes of these historic protests. 

Adnan Hassanpour was imprisoned for 10 years in Iran, from 2007 to 2016. Working for a Kurdish weekly had been accused and found guilty of espionage and of “separatist propaganda.” Condemned to death in 2007, a judge had converted the death penalty to 31 years in prison, which Adnan will never complete.

He spent the first seven years of incarceration in the Kurd city of Sanandaj (ou Siné), then two years in the Marivan prison, and finally one year in the Balochistan prison in Zāhedān. The region is found in the south of the country, in which the capital region is really in full revolution. 

More than 150 deaths during the protests of 2019

Not losing courage, Adnan Hassanpour continued to resist in the multiple prisons that welcomed him. Considered as the “dean” of journalist prisoners in Iran, he notably wrote a letter denouncing the services that the Kurds undergo in prison and in daily life, triggering the ire of the government and the president Hassan Rohani. 

Adnan was then sent even further in Balochistan, to punish him and to deprive him of his family. His letter about the bad treatment and harassment experienced by the Kurds had been shared in the media and made headlines for several weeks.

Still wanted today, Adnan Hassanpour once again drew the wrath of the government in 2019 for having spoken on three television platforms: BBC Perse, Iran International, and Radio Farda. He explained there that serious protests punctuated daily life in the country in that era, until November 2019, when the price of gas had slowed down the good performance of the demonstrations. 

He had cited Reuters and had confirmed that the government killed 1,500 people in the streets during these big protests that had been rumored on the internet. He ended up taking refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan before joining France in September 2022. Three friends had been accompanied in the same manner by the Maison des Journalistes some years earlier, which is why he came to seek refuge here when the Iranian regime forced him into exile. 

A journalistic revolution

Adnan does not hesitate to speak of “revolution” and “protests”, judging that, “these protests are revolutionary, which displeases the government.” In fact, “the journalists provoked the protests. Two persian women journalists distributed the news of the death of Masha/Jina Amini to the general public, which is why they are currently in jail. If the public took the hand of the media who triggered the protests and revived the anger of the people towards the government.”

The journalists and other media actors remain fully engaged, also for themselves by carrying their own demands alongside those of the people. To be a journalist in Iran pays more or less, without counting the level of danger: “the Kurdish journalists don’t earn money, they are completely voluntary. There is no organization, Kurdish journal or media to finance them.”

As for the Persian newspapers, their financial situation is only marginally better. “Journalism isn’t a valued profession in Iran,” hammers Adnan Hassanpour. “A lot of newspapers and TV shows were closed by the government because of protests and many journalists lost their work. As proof, the closing of the daily Jahan-é-Sanat (“The World of the industry) based in Tehran on November 21, 2022, condemned 40 journalists to unemployment.”

This economic newspaper criticized the country’s financial situation and did not escape censorship. The two Iranians who broke the news of Mahsa (or Jina from her Kurdish first name) Amini, are given names Niloofar Hamedi and Elahe Mohammadi and work in Tehran. They are detained today in the Evine prison, suspected by the government to have “close links with the CIA.” They risk the pain of death simply for having done their job. 

The worst is yet to come for the Kurdish newspapers and media, who have no means to defend themselves without money. If a dozen medias of this minority community existed in the country before the death of Mahsa Amini, there are only two today, with very limited influence. They distribute their information on social media, in the same manner that the population shares videos of protests.

“Kurdish televisions are also installed in Kurdistan and in Europe to escape the regime. In addition, two Persian televisions (BBC Perse and Iran International), opponents of the regimes, publish information on the protests and the Kurds. Kurdish media survives only on networks or far from Tehran, far from the prison. The videos are shot and shared by the citizens and directly feed the protests.” 

The indelible imprint of the Kurdish

Picture from Craig Melville.

But who leads and motivates the protests? Adnan Hassanpour is categorical: “Any Revolution in Iran starts with the Kurdish and then spreads nationwide.” As proof, the slogan of current mobilisations “Women Life Freedom,” initiated by the Kurdish community. “This slogan was issued by Kurdish combatants in Syria against Daesh, and today was reappropriated by the entire nations – especially the youth – whether you are Kurdish or Persian,” explains Adnan. If the two journalists who exposed the case of the death of Mahsa Amini are Iranian, it was Kurdish women who beat the pavement first. 

They subsequently involved the entire population and today worry the government. “All these protests prove the courage of the people. Despite the Islamic law, the women don’t wear the veil and the population sings ‘death to the dictator,’ a sign of the overflow of an exhausted people. Today the government no longer pressures Iranian women to wear their veil as much, one can say that they were surprised by the anger of the people. Iranians descended by millions in the street and this figure is not to be taken lightly. Adnan maintains a piece of frank optimism in him, assured that, “the protests today are more important than the ones of yesterday or of four years ago.”

As proof, the abolition of the morality police this Sunday, December 4. It was set up in 2006 to respect the dress code of the country and lashed out at women who did not cover their hair enough. Ordered by the attorney general of the country, Adnan remains skeptical as to the real application of the abolition.

“Unfortunately, the published information on the abolition of the morality police are not yet very reliable, because various Iranian officials made contradictory statements on the subject,” he lamented. “We think they want to appease the society in order to prevent the pursuit of protests. In my opinion, despite the disappearance of the morality police, the protests are going to not only increase but also spread out, because the people will be sure they have the ability to roll back the government.”

What people are crying for in the streets is the destruction of the government and, clearly, they don’t want to be content with limited reforms. For me, possible reforms will only be taken seriously by the people if they include clearly the revision of the constitution and the abolition of the post of Supreme Leader (Khamanei).”

Interesting fact, Adnan indicates after reflection, the very nature of these new riots. If the population had previously aimed for“the destruction of the government,” today it has placed, “the female axis at the center of its claims. It seeks to destroy all forms of traditional backwardness and anti-women, anti-freedom, anti-justice, and anti-rhetoric conservatives. From now on, the people are against all forms of oppression and discrimination. This is the Jina revolution.”

A revolution that still waits on the rest of the world

Moreover, he maintains good relationships with journalists and writers on the spot but, since the start of the clashes, major electricity and internet problems prevent communication. The first cuts were noticed at the dawn of the revolution, to try in vain to nip it in the bud. Since then, Adnan can no longer receive videos from his colleagues and the latter struggle to distribute them when they can. 

Thanks to the Kurdistan Human Rights Network in place for years in Iran, the list of arrested, missing, or killed Iranian writers and journalists continues to be regularly updated. Certain intellectuals were threatened with a death sentence for having helped the protests. This organization also worked in partnership with La Maison des Journalistes nine years ago, in order to welcome Iranian and Kurdish journalists. 

But, what can we do as ordinary western citizens, we may ask? The response is rather simple for Adnan: “It is necessary that governments stop political relations with the Iranian government and provide democratic support to the population. But, as an ordinary citizen, we can always carry our voice in the media and on social networks, which constitutes a very significant support for us, a lot of it is about raising awareness amongst the international community. Civilians can also place pressure on their own government to put an end to political relations with Iran and to push the country to listen to its people.”

Written by Maud Baheng Daizey, translated by Amelia Seepersaud