November 4 marks the anniversary of the Iran hostage crisis. Forty-two years later, one of the hostage-takers, Ezzatollah Zarghami, has become the regime’s Minister of Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts, and Tourism.
Zarghami was born in 1959. He was a classmate of Hassan Tehrani-Moghadam, who later became the father of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC). Like Tehrani-Moghadam, Zarghami joined the IRGC ranks soon after the 1979 revolution.
Due to his loyalty to the regime and its fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, Zarghami rapidly rose through the regime’s ranks. Some of his positions include:
Member of the Followers of Imam’s Line – U.S. Embassy hostage-taker
Anchor of IRGC Radio Program (1982 – 1986)
Member of the IRIB Supervisory Council (1992 – 1997)
Member of the IRNA Supreme Council of policymaking (1992 – 1997)
Deputy of Parliamentary Affairs to the Ministry of Defense (1997 – 2000)
Deputy of IRIB Parliamentary and Provincial Affairs (2000 – 2006)
Head of the State Broadcasting (IRIB) (2004 – 2014)
Planning and Programming Deputy of the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution
Member of the Supreme Council of Cyberspace (2014 – present)
Minister of Ministry of Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism (2021-present)
Iran Hostage Crisis
On November 4, 1979, the United States embassy in Tehran was stormed by a group of people calling themselves “Student followers of the line of the Imam.” Fifty-two U.S. embassy employees and diplomats were taken hostage for 444 days. The hostage-takers have become top regime officials. Zarghami was one of these hostage-takers. Years after the 1979 hostage crisis, Zarghami was the keynote speaker at ceremonies in front of the U.S. embassy in Tehran to mark the anniversary of the embassy takeover.
Head of Iran’s Largest Network of Propaganda
While Zarghami has held top positions in the regime, he is widely known for his role as the head of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), a post that he held for ten years. The regime’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, appointed Zarghami as the head of the IRIB in 2004.
During his tenure in IRIB, Zarghami played a key role in suppressing freedom of speech and limited people’s access to free information. The IRIB, headed by Zarghami, violated the right to freedom of expression of many detainees, journalists, and political activists during the 2009 protests by broadcasting their forced confessions and paved the way for their execution or public disgrace.
Therefore, the European Union Sanctioned Zarghami on March 23, 2012, “for committing human rights abuses.” He was also sanctioned in the U.S. per Executive Order 13628, under the category “Entities Designated as Human Rights Abusers or Limiting Free Expression” in February 2013.
The IRIB broadcasted forced confession of those arrested during the 2009 Green Movement protests. Although this inhumane procedure is not new, it has reached new heights following three major uprisings in Iran in 2009, 2018, and 2019.
In 2009, a number of journalists and political activists, including former regime officials, such as Mohammad Ali Abtahi and Mohammad Atrianfar, were tortured and forced to confess their role in the protests in front of IRIB cameras and express remorse. The regime wanted to silence dissent and kill the hopes for a free society and democracy and IRIB played a serious role by practically conveying the message.
In 2009, IRIB made many efforts to cover up the killing of Neda Agha-Soltan by a plainclothes security officer and denied her death. In the reports and documentaries broadcasted on various IRIB networks, many accusations have been made against Neda Agha-Soltan and her family. The IRIB network, headed by Zarghami, claimed that Neda was an actress, and the pictures of her death were staged, and she was killed after being taken to a car by the video producers!
“By using software and all the new technologies, the Western media wanted to cover just four alleys in Iran to say that this is what’s happening on all the streets of Iran,” Zarghami claimed in July 2009, adding, “Then all their networks were mobilized and created a special Iran-desk, such as the BBC and CNN. They showed some fake images like the death of that lady [Agha-Soltan].”
How do Zarghami and IRIB discriminate against women, ethnic and religious minorities?
The IRIB, then headed by Zarghami, used all possible momentum to discriminate against ethnic and religious minorities. Protests erupted in Lorestan and Chaharmahal, and Bakhtiari Province after the IRIB mocked Lurs the Lor ethnic group in a TV series called “the ancient land.” In September 2013, two of the state-TV hosts insulted the people of Fars province, causing more protests.
The IRIB, the exclusive propaganda arm of the clerical regime, has an important role in propagating, promoting, and disseminating the regime’s medieval ideology and interpretation of Islam.
In December 2012, Jonathan Batuklia, then a member of the Assyrian community in the regime’s parliament, criticized the IRIB for what it called “broadcasting offensive programs against the country’s religious minorities.”
A report published by the Baha’i International Community in October 2012 underlined the role of the IRIB, its English-language news network, and Press TV in promoting anti-Baha’ism. According to the report, from 2007 to 2011, the news network produced and broadcasted documentaries against Baha’ism and promoted anti-Baha’ism. It should be noted that Zarghami was the head of IRIB throughout these years.
The IRIB also has a long history of rehashing the regime’s misogynous views, and Zarghami, who presided over this body for a decade, is responsible for all these atrocities.
IRIB networks have repeatedly promoted and normalized violence against women in various programs. In addition, to talk shows, the official and dominant policy and approach of the IRIB in broadcasting prosecutorial programs and T.V. series is based on the regime’s misogynous views. The image of Iranian women in these programs and series is the image that the clerical regime wants: traditional, housewife, and dependent.
For example, in June 2021, in a talk show, the state-TV invited a man with his three wives to promote polygamy. In part of his conversation, the man described the reason for his three marriages as “entertainment, diversity, and fun” and spoke of his wives’ satisfaction.
“The confessions that IRIB broadcasted were rehearsed,” said one inmate who appeared at a trial broadcasted on August 1, 2009. “The people whose confessions were broadcast were taken to one of the side halls earlier than the others, and the necessary arrangements were made with them. Contrary to what was shown in court, the entire confession scene was pre-planned. Before the hearing, I saw one of the people who had to practice the text of a confession with the deputy prosecutor.”
Through the IRIB, the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence broadcasted a documentary on the confessions of Maziar Ebrahimi and other defendants in the assassination of nuclear scientists. Ebrahimi was arrested five months earlier by the Ministry of Intelligence on charges of complicity in the assassination of nuclear scientists, and after five months of torture, was forced to confess. He was released two years later after proving his innocence and went to Germany.
In various conversations with the media, Ebrahimi emphasized the role of the IRIB and its staff in the process of obtaining and broadcasting his forced confessions. In January 2018, Zarghami confirmed the cooperation of the IRIB with the regime’s security apparatus during the 2009 protests and broadcasting of court scenes and forced confessions on television.
“All this was based on the country’s security [apparatus] approvals. Some may be due to a specific Security Council resolution, while others based on the Security Council’s procedures based on its decisions,” he said, adding, “The forced confessions were broadcasted following a statement by the Supreme National Security Council.”
When Zarghami was appointed as the regime’s new Minister of Culture and Tourism, he underlined that the “Islamic Republic welcomes tourists with open arms.” The Western tourists and diplomats perhaps should think twice before rushing to Zarghami’s “open arms” due to his role in oppressing people. Right now, more than a dozen dual citizens or foreign nationals who have come to Iran for studies or family visits have been stranded in Iranian jails with no hope of release in sight.
Zarghami is close to Khamenei and part of the so-called “young and Hezbollahi government” that Khamenei described. Along with other hand-picked criminals in the cabinet of Ebrahim Raisi (aka the hanging judge), Zarghami has one task, and that is oppressing Iranians and covering up the regime’s crimes.
Zarghami and the IRIB have long tried to tarnish the reality by parroting the regime’s talking points, airing forced confessions, and spreading hatred. Neda Agha-Soltan’s death, with her open eyes, shocked the whole world in 2009. The late Senator John McCain repeated what many people said when Neda died: “Shame on us that Neda died with open eyes, and we live with closed eyes.”
To understand how despicable Zarghami is, it is enough to pay attention to his blatant remarks about Neda’s death and his description of her as an actress.
In reaction to his disgraceful remarks, Hajar Rostami, mother of Neda Agha-Soltan, said: “Neda was not an actress. She was a human being, a youth like a thousand others. Mr. Zarghami, our Neda’s eyes stayed open. Her eyes will stay open until she achieves her goal [of freedom]. Her open eyes moved the world and the Iranian nation.”
11 years ago today, Neda Agha Soltan was shot by a plain clothes sniper during a deadly state crackdown on #IranProtests in Tehran
Her picture of dying with open eyes, shocked the world & opened it's eyes to the reality of what is going on in #Iranpic.twitter.com/RdIyqZyCuw
— IRAN HRM (@IranHrm) June 19, 2020