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Human Rights and the Media: How the GOP Can Help Iran

Republicans would do well to stop agitating to remove the unpopular militant group MKO from the State Department's terror list.

by
Josh Shahryar

Bio

November 27, 2010 - 12:00 am
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Voice of America, the federal government’s media arm, is supposed to be a source of unbiased news for Iranians in Iran and abroad. However, the VOA in the past two years has lost credibility with Iranians in Iran and the Iranian diaspora because of one simple reason — its director is a flagrant supporter of Iran’s mullahs.

A mullah supporter running a media organization funded by the U.S. government on American soil sounds surreal. But it is true. Seyed Ali Sajjadi, the director of Persian News Network (PNN), a branch of the VOA for Iran, has deep familial ties with the current mullahcracy of Iran. His views regarding the Iranian government are so skewed that  for years Iranians and non-Iranians alike have been calling for his ouster. But who wants to make VOA more productive when “friends of freedom” like the MKO need to be removed from the terror list, right?

Sajjadi’s father is an esteemed cleric in Iran and considered close to Khamenei. For this and other reasons, he has repeatedly refused to run programs on PNN that shed a negative light on Iran’s regime. Kenneth R. Timmermann of the Washington Times outlines some of Sajjadi’s blatant pro-mullah policies:

Amateur cell-phone video of the murder of Neda Agha-soltan, a 26-year-old woman who was shot to death during a post-election demonstration on June 20, 2009, went viral in minutes and stirred international outrage over the regime’s brutality. PNN waited three days to air the video.

At the peak of the post-election protests last year, PNN editors told reporters to cover nonpolitical subjects instead of interviewing dissidents, arguing it was not PNN’s job to give the dissidents airtime.

During the U.N. General Assembly in September, Voice of America (VOA) broadcast a documentary on the satirical film “Borat” instead of carrying live coverage of President Obama‘s address as in previous years or debunking the outrageous statements by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who later said the United States was the perpetrator and not the victim of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

This is the guy in charge of a U.S. taxpayer-funded media organization for Iranians. I wonder what VOA would do if they were funded by Iran’s mullahs — about the same thing I imagine. Why aren’t Rep. Bachmann and others working to get this guy out of his post?

If the GOP wants to make an impact,  it needs to ask Iranians what they want. From speaking with Iranians both inside and outside Iran in the past two years, it looks to me that some in the GOP have gotten it horribly wrong. (Not that I think Obama or the Dems are innocent little squirrels when it comes to Iran.) So please, those of you who really want to help Iran’s opposition movement, stop propping up the MKO and start working on fixing VOA’s Sajjadi problem.

This is not a difficult choice to make. Republican leadership, which is in a position to support human rights in Iran, is not being asked to switch from one gray area to another. MKO and Sajjadi are well-known subjects within the Iranian community. Any decisions made or not made in their regard will resonate deeply inside that community.

For the sake of human rights in Iran, I hope the right decisions are made.

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Josh Shahryar is a National Security Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. A journalist and human rights activist, he covers ongoing conflicts as well as human rights issues for various media organizations.
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