'Tell Me More' Update: Political Cartoonist Expands His Storytelling

Host Michel Martin talks to Iranian journalist and political cartoonist Nikahang Kowsar. Kowsar, who lives in exile in Canada, recently launched a citizen journalism Web site which has become a repository for first hand accounts of life in Iran. Kowsar discusses his recent journalistic venture and the current political tensions arising in his home country.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

One of the major international stories we've covered is Iran: the presidential elections in June and the ensuing protests, protests that have again erupted this week in Tehran.

Earlier this year, we spoke with a journalist and artist who helped us understand the political tensions in that country. Nikahang Kowsar now lives in Toronto because his cartoons provoked a negative reaction from the political leadership of Iran. And we're checking in with him again now. Nikahang Kowsar joins us now from Toronto. Welcome back, thank you for joining us.

Mr. NIKAHANG KOWSAR (Political Cartoonist; Iranian Journalist): Hello. How are you? I'm great.

MARTIN: You've had an interesting perspective on the recent clashes through the eyes of citizen journalist. You created a Web site dedicated to citizen journalists and I can't pronounce it. Tell me you did you pronounce the name of it?

Mr. KOWSAR: It's called Khudnegiz(ph), meaning fountain pen in one word. But in another way, it means somewhere you write whatever you want yourself.

MARTIN: And how does it work?

Mr. KOWSAR: Yeah. It's a citizen journalism platform that people can actually join it and write whatever they want. But me, and a few of my friends, who started this Web site are the moderators and editors of it. We have told the members that although we like freedom of expression and we have almost died for it, but we work based on principles of journalism.

MARTIN: And so what kinds of stories are you getting?

Mr. KOWSAR: We got lots of stories in the past three weeks that we started, we launched the Web site. One of them that was very shocking to me was what happened in Tehran this Saturday and Sunday.

This Saturday, ex-president Katami was somehow attacked by the goon squads in Ayatollah Khomeini's Mosque in north of Tehran, that was something sacred for many people. And we had a reporter there. And he sent us voice files that nobody had. He sent us pictures and first-hand reports that - so many foreign reporters were actually not allowed to enter that place.

We have people on the ground during the bloody demonstrations that were giving us information hour to hour what's happening on this street, on that intersection. And this was something weird to me because we're a not a professional, let's say, organization.

MARTIN: How did you interpret this new development, the fact that people are willing to risk so much just to be heard? And not people like yourselves who are kind of diehard activists, but just regular people who want the world to know what they're seeing and experiencing. How do you - what do you think this means?

Mr. KOWSAR: I think they're looking to actually breathe. It's very difficult right now when the state media censors almost anything. So, people are getting tired of that. They want to actually tell the world what's happening. You saw a lot of videos this summer and recently what was happening. You saw the video of Nidal (unintelligible). Without seeing that, without witnessing that, how could people out of Iran feel what's happening? Because they want to show the world that, hey, whatever you hear from the government of Iran doesn't make sense.

When President Ahmadinejad says that we have absolute freedom inside Iran, yes, absolute freedom to say very nice things about Ayatollah Khomeini and Mr. Ahmadinejad. But, no, if anybody criticizes the government, the state, the revolutionary guards, either he or she would be arrested or go to prison for a long time. And there is a risk of even being raped. This is very important because we didn't have, let's say, witnesses of prison rapes in the past that people believe their cases. Now people are believing this. So, I think we need - we needed a platform to give them this chance to get involved themselves.

MARTIN: Nikahang Kowsar remains in exile in Toronto, Canada, where he continues to work as a cartoonist and journalist. Thank you for joining us.

Mr. KOWSAR: Thanks for having me.

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