chapter  2
14 Pages

The ‘Spring of Freedom’ (1979)

As the Shah’s regime disintegrated, the SAVAK softened its approach to the press. Unlike the past, when its agents would call the newspapers to tell them what to print and what not to print, the SAVAK would now write to the press, asking for correction of reports it considered to have been untrue or distorted. On 8 January 1979, for instance, Kayhan ran the SAVAK’s denials of three of the paper’s reports from the previous day. One had been about ‘the discovery of a secret SAVAK torture chamber’ on one of Tehran’s central streets. Another had been about ‘the cutting off of welfare facilities at Evin prison’, and the third had said that SAVAK officers in the southern town of Firouzabad had surrendered to the public who had attacked their offices and freed the prisoners held there. There were similar denials in the days to come, with the effect that ‘the SAVAK was being seen by journalists as just another, normal government organization [ . . . ] such as the General Department of Sugar and Cube Sugar, or the Ministry of Water and Electricity,’1

which would be routinely covered by newspapers. Between Mr Bakhtiar’s formal assumption of office as Prime Minister on

6 January 1979 and the Shah’s departure from Iran 10 days later, the head of the SAVAK, General Nasser Moqaddam, held two meetings with journalists at his headquarters in north Tehran.2 The first was with the journalists’ Syndicate’s Secretary, Mohammad-Ali Safari, and the second with him and a group of other senior journalists from the three main dailies. At the first meeting, Mr Safari recalls, General Moqaddam said the press had been highly exaggerating the scale and intensity of the street clashes with the security forces, ‘rapidly dragging the country to the edge of the precipice.’ Mr Safari quotes the General as saying that the SAVAK did not want ‘to preserve the current regime’, but ‘to prevent the country from collapsing and losing its independence’, to which end the SAVAK and the press had ‘to join hands.’3 At the second meeting, General Moqaddam announced that the Shah would soon be leaving the country and warned that this could lead to the public attacking the security forces and the military. Repeating his criticism of ‘sensational headlines and photographs’, he asked the journalists to help calm down the public in order to prevent ‘pointless bloodshed.’ While making it clear that they could not be seen to be co-operating with the SAVAK, the journalists agreed to give due coverage to any action by the security forces and the military to maintain calm once the Shah had left the country.4 They also said they would be ‘reflecting the

views and decisions of the society’s leaders’, meaning the opposition leadership, and that ‘it was they who should be asked to call on the public to remain calm.’5