Breaking the sound barrier: Iran's gag order fails to silence hero pilot
Iranian airline captain Houshang Shahbazi was declared a national hero last October after saving over 100 lives with a miraculous emergency landing. Now, one year on, the hero's legitimate fears over plane safety are being silenced by Iran’s authorities.
Shahbazi, 56, was flying the Boeing-727 when the front landing gear jammed. Showing nerves of steel, he safely landed the defective plane at Tehran's Mehrabad Airport using only its rear wheels. The pilot blamed the near-fatal crash on U.S. sanctions that have left Iran unable to update its aging civilian airline fleet.
The hero of the Iranian people has spent the past 12 months using his new-found fame to campaign against the sanctions. In September he took his fight to the top, using a YouTube video to make a direct plea to U.S. President Barak Obama: “Mr. Obama, I hope you act upon your famous motto of ‘change’ and [put] politics aside, consider human rights standards, and lift the sanctions on sales of civilian airliners and spare parts, to save people’s lives.”
So far the pilot’s pleas have fallen on deaf ears and the US has maintained their sanctions against the pariah state. In the meantime, Shahbazi, while idolized by his country’s people, has proved less than popular with those in power.
Last year Iran’s state-controlled TV decided images of sheep giving birth to triplets were more important than video footage of the plane landing. They also banned the pilot from flying while they investigated the crash.
Shahbazi hit out at those in power in an interview with opposition paper, ‘Etemad’, for their seeming ingratitude, saying: "They have not even called to say thank you."
Now, in a bid to silence the outspoken pilot, the authorities have gone one step further: forcing Shahbazi into early retirement.
Last week the former pilot told Iranian news agencies: “[Officials] told me, ‘You can return to work under certain conditions.' They said, ‘You have to commit yourself not to engage in social work anymore.’ I refused.”
Shahbazi believes Iran Air's decision to force him into retirement is a result of his involvement in the March session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. However, so far the government’s efforts clearly have not worked as the people’s pilot continues to speak out to whoever will listen about the terrible safety record of Iranian flights and his government’s attempts to silence him.
What do you think of the Iranian authorities treatment of Shahbazi? Does the US have a moral duty to lift the sanctions? Leave us your comments below!
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