Reporter’s Notebook: Credentials, censorship and protest

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Salam all,

Greetings from the Hotel Naderi (actually an internet cafe nearby).
The Naderi is like stepping back to the 1940s or 50s—with high ceiling
rooms and a lobby with well-worn ornate furnishings. The ancient hotel
switchboard looks like something out of Lily Tomlin’s old telephone
operator sketch. For $15 a night I get a room with beds about three
feet wide and mattresses three inches thick. The room is in the back
and looks out over a garden. It’s quiet and, in Tehran, that’s rare.

After spending most of the day Tuesday at the press office getting
my credentials, today has felt more productive. I visited a women’s
cooperative in South Tehran. The women, who are all single, make items
of clothing—the orange jumpsuits that the street sweepers wear,
uniforms for schools and hospitals, etc. Most are illiterate or have
little education and the skills they learn and money they make keep
them off the streets—literally.

We were told that for some it was either this or prostitution. Some
are divorced from husbands who are drug addicts. They told us addiction
is a particularly bad problem in this area. All spoke of the new
president of Iran as someone they admired and trusted to make their
lives better. I don’t think this was said for our benefit. On the walls
of the coop were photos of the new president taken when he visited
during his term as mayor of Tehran.

We also visited a wonderfully spirited woman in her late 60s, who
owns a publishing company. She’s concerned that there will be greater
censorship under the new president, but she also bemoaned a lack of
reading among Iranians. She publishes 50 to 70 books a year and most
sell at most 2,000 copies. She’s also a translator. The big sellers in
Iran recently have been the books by the Clintons. Because Iran is not
a party to international copyright laws, no royalties or fees are paid,
so the books, translated into Farsi and sell for a few dollars. She
showed me a copy of her translation of Sylvia Plath’s "The Bell Jar."
She said she was ashamed of the translation because the government made
her remove objectionable parts. As she pointed out, publishers and
writers have never had freedom in Iran. It’s simply a different set of
rules now than under the Shah. Amazingly, she is a graduate of Goddard
College. She told me that were I not from Vermont, she wouldn’t have
agreed to speak to me.

Yesterday I watched a demonstration of young students who marched to the French,
German and British Embassy shouting "Death to America," "Death
to Israel" and "Death to (fill in the blank with the offending European
Union country)." Banners announced "NPT (non-proliferation treaty)
we will leave you soon." The government wants the outside world to know,
or at least think that Iran’s withdrawal from the treaty is at stake in the
current impasse over its nuclear program. It was clearly orchestrated by the
government and well planned. Trucks with loudspeakers drove along exhorting
the young marchers—the men in a group in front, the women, all black
clad, following behind. Signs on the embassies announced that they would be
closing early that day, so they were obviously warned. There were few police,
so no trouble was expected, nor did it materialize.



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