Iran’s unperson

Withers, however, was already an UNPERSON. He did not exist: he had never existed.
Nineteen Eighty-Four, Chapter 4

Radio Zamaneh reports:

A spokesman for Iran’s judiciary says former president Mohammad Khatami has been banned from appearing in the media.

Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei told a press conference today: “The media is not allowed to reflect the image or statement of the head of the reformist government,” referring to Mohammad Khatami.

He maintained that the order was issued a while ago and remains in effect, and any violation of it by any media outlet will be dealt with as an offence.

In other words, the Iranian media are not allowed to acknowledge the existence of the man who served as Iran’s president from 1997 to 2005.

Khatami was a weak-willed leader who was elected president of Iran on promises of reform and more openness, but who always backed down when challenged by Supreme Leader Khamenei.

Here’s what I wrote about about Khatami in 2006, after he left office and visited the United States:

I’ll give Khatami the benefit of the doubt that he was sincere about pursuing fundamental change and greater freedoms in Iran. But his efforts were systematically undercut by Iran’s reactionary theocracy. And the worst part is that– aside from some occasional public whining– for eight years Khatami stood aside and let it happen.

Did it ever occur to him that with the vast majority of Iranians on his side, at some point he could have simply refused to follow the mullahs’ dictates? That if he was committed to genuine democracy, he could have called his supporters into the streets and stood down Ayatollah Khamenei’s lackeys and thugs?

Instead Khatami backed down time after time, crushing the hopes of those who elected him and paving the way, in large part, for his successor– the repressive hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

It’s instructive to watch these videos of Khatami appearing before a restive crowd at Tehran University toward the end of his second term as president, and to see reform-minded students vent their frustration at him.

As an al-Jazeera commentator remarked, “It seemed that the students of the conservative movement were the only ones who, uncharacteristically, defended the reformist president.”

…To my mind, he is even more contemptible than Ahmadinejad, who after all is what he is. Millions of Iranians trusted Khatami to be something better, but all they got was a sell-out, a weakling and a coward.

In the 2009 presidential election, Khatami supported the presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi (now under house arrest), whose supposed loss to Ahmadinejad triggered the Green Revolution which brought millions of Iranian protesters onto the streets.

Even though Khatami abjectly called for Iranians to participate in the official parade marking the 35th anniversary of the Islamic Republic last year, hardliners held up posters depicting him being hanged with other “reformists.”

And now Iranian newspapers can’t even mention him, quote him or publish his photograph.

A pathetic fate for a pathetic man– although it may be revealing that the Iranian regime is still in some sense afraid of him.