Iran’s struggling Green Movement that arose during last June’s disputed presidential election needs help from the West, a dissident who now lives in exile told Newsmax in an exclusive interview in Paris.
“With 35 million people using mobile phones, and 3.5 million young people in the university system, Iranians are technology savvy and open to the West,” said Mohsen Makhmalbaf, a prominent Iranian film maker who has become a key spokesman for the Green Movement over the past year.
“But we need help to get our message into Iran. This is where the Voice of America could do more,” he said.
Makhmalbaf pointed to several cases where the Voice of America’s Persian News Network (PNN) editors either censored news that was embarrassing to the regime, or seemingly took the side of the regime against the dissidents.
In one case, the wife of Hojjat-ol eslam Mehdi Karrubi wrote a highly-critical open letter to the supreme leader, which was broadcast by many international media. “But when VOA did a story on her letter, they criticized Mrs. Karrubi, not the supreme leader,” Makhmalbaf said.
After last June’s election, presidential contender Karrubi threw his weight behind former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Moussavi, and stunned many Iranians among the ruling government elite by exposing the rape, torture, and murder of young men and women arrested in the post-election protests.
“The Voice of America could play a very important role in helping to introduce political prisoners to the people of Iran. Many of these individuals, whose names are unknown to most people, are potential leaders of the Green Movement. We need help in getting their voices heard,” Makhmalbaf said.
“VOA managing editor Seyed Ali Sajadi has censored my interviews,” he said. “The reason he gave was that he didn’t agree with my views.”
Sajadi comes from a religious family in Tehran, where his father teaches Islamic studies.
In an interview with a VOA show last month, Sajadi swept aside accusations of pro-regime bias from opposition activists. “The opposition has plenty of money. Let them finance their own television,” he said.
After last June’s elections, Karrubi asked Western governments, including the United States, to refuse to recognize the government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad because of massive voter fraud, “but President Obama refused,” Makhmalbaf said.
The Green Movement calls Ahmadinejad’s government a “coup government,” and has been calling for him to resign ever since Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei confirmed his re-election last year.
Makhmalbaf had critical words for the ostensible leader of the Green Movement as well as for President Obama.
“Obama is only concerned by Iran’s nuclear program, while Moussavi only talks about democracy and human rights. They need to meet each other half way,” Makhmalbaf said. “Moussavi doesn’t understand how to talk to the outside world, while Obama doesn’t understand what’s happening inside Iran.”
The United States is shortsighted when it comes to Iran, he added. “The Revolutionary Guards have a plan for the United States, but the United States has no plan for Iran.
"The Revolutionary Guards have a strategy in place to counter any kind of sanctions the United States or the United Nations can offer. What is the U.S. doing to counter those plans? Nothing.”
As a prominent film maker, Makhmalbaf believes that the Green Movement can do better to harness the power of political image making. “Images are powerful,” he told Newsmax. “If you make a film that shows that people are running away when the government thugs attack them, the people will think that they are weak. But if you make a film that shows them striking back, it will encourage them and make them feel strong.”
The internal dynamic inside Iran is playing out in favor of the Green Movement, Makhmalbaf said. “Moussavi believes that seventy percent of the people support the Green Movement, 20 percent are uncommitted, and just 10 percent strongly support the regime. His strategy is to win the 20 percented of uncommitted people to the Green Movement. But without that, we could have civil war.”
With the obvious willingness of the regime to arrest protesters, many observers outside Iran have wondered why the regime has not arrested Moussavi, the ostensible leader of the Green Movement. “The regime can’t arrest Moussavi because a large part of the Revolutionary Guards Corps remains loyal to him, because of his position as leader of the armed forces during the 1980-1988 war with Iraq,” Makhmalbaf said.
As we were talking in a Paris café, two beefy Lebanese men took the next table, and physically leaned into our conversation. Makhmalbaf just shrugged. “They do that all the time,” he said. “It’s not a physical threat. They are just trying to intimidate us.”
Iran regularly uses recruits from Lebanese Hezbollah to do its dirty work. Just last week, the French government released Vakili Rad, the convicted assassin of former Iranian prime minister Shahpour Bakhtiar, who was killed in his home outside Paris in 1991 by Iranian government hit men and their Hezbollah helpers.
With all the recent information emerging in the United States about Iranian assistance to al-Qaida before and after the Sept. 11 attacks, Newsmax asked Makhmalbaf if he had any information as to the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden and his relationship to the Iranian government.
“Osama bin Laden is living in Iran,” he said. “There is absolutely no doubt about this. According to our information, he is probably living in a government guest house near Karaj,” a town just northwest of Tehran that is controlled by the Revolutionary Guards.
“When I was filming along the Iranian-Afghanistan border in the weeks just after the 9/11 attacks, I saw lots of al-Qaida members moving across the border from Afghanistan into Iran near the town of Zabol,” he told Newsmax.
“Later, I asked Moussavi about this. He told me that five years after 9/11, he was taken by regime officials to visit an al-Qaida camp near Karaj, where around 120 Taliban and al-Qaida members were on a hunger strike to protest the quality of the meat being provided by the Iranian intelligence services. They were half prisoners, half guests.
"It was clear they had a very special relationship to the regime. That’s why Moussavi was taken on this tour. It was arranged for top officials in the Iranian regime, so they would be able to see for themselves how well the regime was treating the al-Qaida guests,” Makhmalbaf said.
Makhmalbaf said he had been invited along with an Iranian Kurdish leader to address the French National Assembly to commemorate the June 12 elections that brought about the “coup government” of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
“As members of the opposition, we need to coordinate our activities more closely,” he said. “This is a good step in that direction.”
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