Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Parastoo that I know

* By Annabelle Sreberny

Parastoo Dokouhaki was a student on the Master course Global Media and Post National Communication in the Centre for Media and Film Studies at SOAS during the academic year 2007-8.  She came to study in London with considerable experience as a journalist and women’s rights campaigner in Iran.  SOAS and the Centre attract students from around the world and Parastoo enjoyed the encounters with people from south-east Asia and Africa. Many of our discussions focused on the difficulties for free speech in the Middle East and China or the social roles of women, for example, and every class was a brilliant exercise in comparative analysis.  I discovered that she was an active blogger and she is one of many voices that we included in Blogistan.
Although she could have remained in Britain – and probably found a job within the BBC Persian service as many young intellectuals have – she preferred to return to Iran and use her skills and education there. She was working with the Shariati Foundation, cataloguing and putting the theorist’s work online as a searchable resource for Iranians and the world.

In the autumn of 2011, I bumped in to her at the wonderful concert by Mohsen Namjoo at the Barbican.  That was appropriate since it had been Parastoo who first told me about the exciting music that Namjoo was producing and connected me to samples of his work on the internet.  

She came to visit me at SOAS after that and we discussed possible topics for a PhD, since she was keen to continue with her studies. One idea that we both liked was to research the untold stories of women’s roles and experiences during the Iran-Iraq war. The war still scars Iranian society and has not received the analytic attention it deserves, with the experiences of urban-dwellers living under missiles attacks a social trauma that has hardly been explored. 

The recent wave of arrests is horrifying and, for me, the incarceration of Parastoo especially so. She had not been politically active so the only explanation appears to be that she is caught up in the renewed attacks on BBC PTV and the attempt to link liberal voices inside Iran to that organization in the escalation of the diplomatic crisis with Britain. Ironically, Parastoo has wanted nothing to do with the BBC but it now appears likely that she might be forced into a televised confession of things she did not do.  

The best thing we can do is publicise these ungrounded and irrational attacks on innocent people, show the judicial process in Iran for the sham that it is and press for the establishment of the rights of free speech and a free judiciary that any civilized society  - and especially one that operates under  the sign of religion -requires.

Annabelle Sreberny is Professor of Global Media and Communications and the first Chair of the Centre for Iranian Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. She was Parastoo's advisor when she was studying at SOAS.

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