IRGC Commander Turned Musician Says He Was Banned From Producing Music by the Intelligence Ministry
Rouhani Government and MPs Ignore Hossein Zaman’s Pleas for Help
Iranian singer and songwriter Hossein Zaman, a former Revolutionary Guards commander who has been banned from producing or performing music for more than 15 years, says the ban was put in place because Iran’s Intelligence Ministry wants to intimidate him into refraining from expressing his political views.
In an interview with the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on December 5, 2017, Zaman disagreed with Iran’s current culture minister, who recently argued that musicians face roadblocks in Iran because of religious leaders.
“I think what the guidance minister really meant to say is that there are more important authorities who make the decisions,” said Zaman. “Every time I went to the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, I was told that people at the top wouldn’t let me have a work permit. That means some authority outside the ministry gives orders about what people can and cannot do.”
“What the minister is indirectly saying is that he has no authority,” said Zaman.
Zaman was responding to comments made by Culture and Islamic Guidance Minister Abbas Salehi in an interview with the semi-official Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA).
“Some of the things that have happened to these artists is because of the views expressed by some religious leaders,” said Salehi on December 4, 2017.
Zaman told CHRI that he has written letters to President Hassan Rouhani and members of Parliament to seek their help in getting the ban on his music career lifted.
No official has responded to his requests.
“The last official I contacted was Ms. [Shahindokht] Mowlaverdi, the president’s adviser in charge of citizens’ rights,” he told CHRI. “I sent her two or three messages and she said she would follow up, but I never heard from her again.
Zaman, 54, was a commander in the naval unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) until his forced retirement in 1991. He also taught electronics and communications at the Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, but in 2012 his employment contract was inexplicably not renewed.
Zaman was court-martialed in 1999 by Branch 14 of the Military Court for making political statements on his blog in support of reformists while being a member of the IRGC. He was initially sentenced to 15 years in prison but the sentence was reduced to a 91-day suspended sentence upon appeal.
A supporter of reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi in Iran’s 2009 presidential election, Zaman told CHRI: “The last time I inquired about my situation was at the end of last year [March 2017 in Iran]. There was a man there who was a representative of the Intelligence Ministry in the culture ministry’s security office. He interviewed me in a way that was more like an interrogation. For instance, he asked what I thought about the 2009 election. Do I support Mr. Mousavi or not? I gave him some straight answers and since then no one has contacted or spoken to me.”
Since February 2011, Mousavi, Zahra Rahnavard, and Mehdi Karroubi have been under extrajudicial house arrest for leading the peaceful protests against the disputed result of the 2009 election.
“The Intelligence Ministry representative was very clear that I was banned because I take political positions and criticize certain aspects of the government and the state,” said Zaman. “I replied that as an artist who has the support of the people, I feel it is my duty to defend the people against oppression and injustice. If this is what you call political interference, so be it.”
Successive Administrations Fail to Protect Musicians
Zaman told CHRI that his problems began under reformist President Mohammad Khatami, more than a decade before the election of President Rouhani in 2013.
“At that time, I wasn’t given any explanation about why I wasn’t able to work, but it was obvious that the [Khatami] government was under pressure to shut me down,” he said. “When Mr. [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad came to power [in 2005], I was completely barred from pursuing any musical activities.”
“I thought there might be an opening under Mr. Rouhani’s government, but nothing has changed at all,” he added.
Since 2013, when President Rouhani was voted into office promising a more open society, numerous musicians and vocalists saw their concerts canceled at the last moment. The vast majority of the canceled concerts had received licenses from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance.
After the authorities canceled a series of concerts in the summer of 2017, members of the House of Music, an independent association of musicians based in Tehran, urged President Rouhani to allow musicians to perform in Iran.
“Presently, the question is: Are the cancelations of lawful concerts not a clear example of the violation of the rights of musicians as citizens? Who is accountable for the trampling of these rights?” wrote the organization in an open letter in August 2017.