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Iranian Dissident Says Events of July 1999 "Marked the Death of Reform"

Washington, D.C., July 7, 2004 - Sepehr Zangeneh, a participant in the July 1999 uprising in Iran, told the Voice of America today that the government's suppression of students disappointed in the reform movement led by President Khatami ultimately "marked the death of reform." Zangeneh, a former student, said he was skeptical that a similar uprising would occur in the near future because of the regime's success in jailing dissidents and otherwise rendering them powerless.

Zangeneh made his comments during a panel discussion at VOA, "Looking at 18th Tir 1378: A Critical Point for the Future of the Freedom and Democratic Movement in Iran", which explored the implications of the July 1999 events for the democratic movement in Iran. The panel, which was broadcast live by television to Iran and streamed on the Internet, took several questions and comments from viewers in Iran. Today's discussion was the second in a series, "Looking Ahead", examining the future of human rights and democracy in Iran.

The panelists agreed that the 1999 events marked a turning point in the evolution of the freedom movement in Iran, and reflected a national movement and not simply student unrest. The protestors included a variety of people, from teachers and nurses to journalists. Hassan Massali, a veteran Iranian political activist, said what Iran needs now is a new type of political organization that can unite freedom-loving Iranians without obstacles like ideology and personal rivalries that characterized the old Iranian system.

Panelist Roozbeh Farahanipour, a former journalist, argued that the failed protest showed how important it was to be organized. "Organization, organization, organization," he said, "should be the motto for the future of the movement." Farahanipour also said the international media played an important role by informing the people of Iran, including the protestors, of what was going on, since such information was not provided by Iran's official media.

Several guests joined the discussion by phone from overseas, including Shiva Nazari, a student at Sadra University in Tehran. When asked if she faced any obstacles as a woman in the Iranian freedom movement, she declared: "Gender prejudice is a thing of the past."

Panelist Ghassem Shoeleh-Saadi, a lawyer and former member of the Iranian parliament, participated via phone from Tehran. Shoeleh-Saadi, in response to a question from a student in Tehran, pledged to support any organization established to defend the rights of political prisoners - and to offer his services for free.

The Voice of America, which first went on the air in 1942, is a multimedia international broadcasting service funded by the U.S. government. VOA broadcasts 1,000 hours of news, information, educational, and cultural programming every week to an estimated worldwide audience of 87 million people. Programs are produced in Persian and 43 other languages.

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