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The Crime of a Photo By: Lisa Daftari
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, September 04, 2009

Like any other young photojournalist, Javad Moghimi (Parsa) would have wanted to openly celebrate his photograph making the cover of Time Magazine, an incredible accomplishment for any photographer.  Instead, he had to secretly pack his bags and escape Iran. A warrant was issued for Moghimi’s arrest this week, paralleling the fate of dozens of other journalists and photojournalists whose crime, according to Ahmadinejad’s regime, was capturing intense moments of the country’s recent uprisings and sending them to credible news agencies abroad. 

Moghimi shot a photograph of young protesters in Tehran, which adorned the June 29 issue of Time Magazine. The photograph complemented Joe Klein’s Iran vs. Iran: What I Saw at the Revolution, a piece chronicling the journalist’s travels to Iran during the first week following post-election demonstrations. 


“After the election, things in Iran got bad pretty quickly. The following day I went out in the streets and saw how things were escalating. I knew that as a photographer my duty to my profession and to my people was to tell the story through pictures,” Moghimi said in an exclusive phone interview.


Currently, Moghimi has fled to Turkey, where he is in contact with United Nations officials about obtaining asylum status and traveling safely to the United States.


At only 24, Moghimi has already won many accolades in photography and had worked for Iran’s esteemed Fars News Agency, the country’s leading independent news source that maintains strong ties to the Islamic regime. He was one of their top photographers until the Time cover debuted. Fars News Agency, “trustworthy” and “unbiased,” as its website boasts, fired him immediately. 


“All along so many journalists were arrested. Some were tortured. Others are still missing. Once my arrest warrant came out I knew I could no longer freely work and live in my country. I had to get out,” he said.


Over the last two months, as news coverage in Iran has been limited, the international community comfortably relied on Iranians, both professional journalists and amateurs to engage in this historic, electronic revolution. They updated Twitter accounts, uploaded videos, pictures and files to Facebook and got as close as possible to the scenes to get the most expressive shots.


Now the dust has settled, and Ahmadinejad’s hard-line regime has become even more stringent and vengeful against those who sought to remove him. Individuals have been summoned and interrogated about text messages, Facebook posts and even harmless and routine phone calls to their family and friends abroad.  A storm of arrests and imprisonments started in the initial hours of the demonstrations but is now forcefully and systematically targeting professional journalists and photographers.


Only a few weeks ago, Majid Saeedi, another prominent photojournalist and employee of Fars News Agency, was finally released under a $100,000 bail after weeks of trials and interrogations.  Likewise, Sateeyar Emami, an investigative journalist who was accused of allegedly sending compromising photographs of Bushehr’s nuclear facility sites to Israel, was freed on a $200,000 bail. Coincidentally, these pictures were already published widely in various publications across Iran.


“I felt blessed to be working in a field that I am passionate about and felt that the job of a journalist was to always remain unbiased. It was my job to capture the moment and work for my country,” he said.  “Sometimes that means capturing the positive and sometimes the negative. They wanted us only to show the positive.”

Moghimi, a self-proclaimed pro-democracy activist and member of the political group Marze Por Gohar,  had experienced the regime’s intolerance with the media a while back. He was suspended from work at Fars News Agency for over a month for taking pictures at a small-scale demonstration.  The regime saw his photographs as unflattering to their administration and put him on probation.


“I can’t stay in a country that I love and have a profession that I am passionate about yet have these strict limitations on what I can and cannot cover,” Moghimi said. “It’s not like this anywhere else in the world. Whenever there is turmoil anywhere, you get such vivid photographs, but in Iran we are limited. A journalist has to be free and have rights to cover the truth.”


Moghimi will soon be traveling to the United States with no access back to Iran, where he left behind his friends, family and colleagues.  He hopes to still use his photography to help the people of Iran. 


“I hope to be able to portray Iran in its accurate light for the whole world to see," he affirms. "I want to show people what Iran is really like and not just what the Mullahs want you to see.”


Lisa Daftari is an award-winning journalist with expertise in the Middle East and counter-terrorism. Her stories have appeared on CBS, NBC, PBS, the Washington Post and Voice of America. She was invited to show her documentary film on an Iranian political youth movement to a subcommittee of Congress.

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