Show Trials Get Under Way
02 Aug 2009 03:29
Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a prominent reformist and a cleric (clutching white piece of paper), was part of a group of 100 or so opposition figures who went on trial today. By MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles | 1 Aug 2009
Comment & Analysis A show trial of more than 100 opposition figures got under way today at the Imam Khomeini complex in Tehran.
The defendants included leading reformist leaders such as former vice president Mohammad Ali Abtahi; Dr. Mohsen Mirdamadi, secretary-general of the Islamic Iran Participation Front (IIPF), Iran's largest political group and the most important reformist party; Mohammad Atrianfar, editor of several leading reformist newspapers and a leading member of the Executives of Reconstruction Party (ERP), a prominent reformist group; Dr. Abdollah Ramazanzadeh, government spokesman during the administration of Mohammad Khatami; Behzad Nabavi, a member of the central committee of the Islamic Revolution Mojahedin Organization (IRMO), an important reformist group, and deputy Speaker of the 6th Majles, which was controlled by the reformists; Dr. Mohsen Aminzadeh, deputy Foreign Minister in the Khatami administration and member of the central committee of the IIPF; and Mohsen Safaei Farahani, deputy minister of the economy in the Khatami administration and a member of the central committee of the IIPF.
The trials were reminiscent of the Stalinist trials in the 1930s, when opponents of the communist regime were accused of plotting to overthrow the government. The men on trial today served the government for decades, fought in the Iran-Iraq war, and have repeatedly declared (even demonstrated when Khatami was president) that they want to reform the political system, not overthrow it.
Dr. Mirdamadi was one of the three main leaders of the Student Followers of Imam's Line, the leftist student group that took over the American embassy in Tehran in November 1979, an event that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini called "a second revolution that has rejuvenated the Islamic revolution." Dr. Aminzadeh, who was deputy Foreign Minister for eight years, is a skilled diplomat who considerably improved Iran's relation with the European Union.
Nevertheless, the prosecutor read a long opening statement containing many bogus, and even surreal charges against the defendants. Interestingly, the text the prosecutor read from sounded virtually identical to Hossein Shariatmadari's columns in Kayhan, the daily newspaper that serves as a mouthpiece for the hardliners. (Shariatmadari enjoys the services of Payam Fazli Nejad, a journalist who used to be a reformist but joined the conservative camp and now writes for him.)
Similarities between the prosecutor's opening statement and Shariatmadari's columns in Kayhan are one indication that the trials are a total sham and apparently staged for their own supporters who may have started to doubt the legitimacy of the election. Even the hardliners know that such "trials" are purely put on for show, and the consumption of their support base, as they did not even allow the attorneys for the defendants to appear in court!
Another ridiculous aspect of the trial is the following: Less than 30 minutes after the opening statement was read, Fars News Agency, which is controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), published it in its entirety. In fact, Fars News Agency manages many such feats when the hardliners are in a need.
The opening statement began with praise for the high turnout in the June 12 election, something the hardliners like to say is a show of popularity of the political system, rather than the people's peaceful way of expressing their dissatisfaction with the system and attempting to reform it. The statement was replete with quotes from the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and his theory that the "enemy" wants to interfere in Iran's internal affairs. During his 20-year tenure as the Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah has consistently spoken about a fictional "enemy," attributing all the shortcomings, as well as the crimes, of the political system to this fictional entity.
The prosecutor claimed that the election was a major achievement for Iran in the international arena. And in a sense, he is right, but certainly not in the way he would like to spin it. The 85% turnout does indicate that the Iranian people are mature from a political perspective. The peaceful protests against the rigged election have also created -- or, more precisely, have restored -- an image of the Iranian people as a nation that is pursuing a peaceful path toward democracy and the rule of law.
The violent crackdown on the protesters and the murders of tens of young people, and the torture of hundreds of others in prisons and dungeons that even embarrassed the hardliners, did unmask for the entire world the true nature of the hardliners. It robbed them of the claim that their regime is supported by a great majority of the people.
The prosecutor followed the line closely associated with IRGC commanders such as Major General Mohammad Ali (Aziz) Jafari and Brigadier General Yadollah Javani, head of the IRGC's political directorate. As propagated by Kayhan and Shariatmadari, the IRGC top command would like people to believe protests against the rigged election were part of an attempt by reformist leaders to overthrow the regime. There was, however, a minor, but significant difference: Instead of referring to it as a "velvet revolution," the language of choice used in the past by Jafari, Javani and Shariatmadari, the prosecutor borrowed a phrase from reformist leader Mohammad Khatami, who said two weeks ago, "If anything [has happened to the election], it is a velvet coup against the people." The prosecutor shifted his language too, also referring to it as a "velvet coup."
Quoting Ayatollah Khamenei, the prosecutor mocked the "foreigners" and the "enemy." "They thought Iran is like Georgia," he said, alluding to the demonstrations and the so-called "Rose Revolution" in that country in November 2003, which overthrew the government of President Eduard Shevardnadze and brought to power a Western-backed leader, Mikheil Nikolozis dze Saakashvili (who is rapidly turning into a despot).
The prosecutor then listed the foreign entities that supposedly helped the reformist leaders and the majority of Iranian people in their attempts to stage a "velvet coup": The Open Society of George Soros; the Rockefeller, Ford and George Marshal Foundations; the Council on Foreign Relations; the German Society for Foreign Affairs; Center for Democratic Governance of Britain; and U.S.-funded Radio Farda, which broadcasts into Iran. It should be noted that the Open Society worked with the Iranian government for quite some time against the spread of AIDS. Note also that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attended a meeting at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, and discussed Iran's relation with the United States and Iran's nuclear program. (Will Ahmadinejad be on trial next?)
Without naming anyone, the prosecutor mentioned a detained "spy" who had traveled to Israel and made himself familiar with MEMRI (the Middle East Media Research Institute), a pro-Israel organization in the United States that also operates in Israel and whose goal, according to the prosecutor, is "to help the reformist leaders in the Islamic world, including Iran." According to the prosecutor, he [the "spy"] was told that, "our [MEMRI] goal is to spread the thinking and philosophies of people like [Dr.] Albdolkarim Soroush," the distinguished Islamic philosopher with a large following in Iran. In a few short sentences, the reformist leaders were linked to practically everybody in the Western world and Israel.
The accusation is made despite the fact that the Intelligence Ministry submitted a report to Ayatollah Khamenei about 10 days ago. After extensive investigations, the report stated that the Ministry could not find any link between the reformist leaders and foreign powers. In fact, the report was one important reason that the Intelligence Minister, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, was fired by Ahmadinejad last week. (Ejehei had also protested the appointment of Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei as Ahmadinejad's First Vice President.) Ahamadinejad has appointed himself as the temporary Supervisor of the Intelligence Ministry.
The prosecutor then claimed that Iran's Green Movement was similar to the movement in Serbia, where a group of university students organized street protests and paralyzed the government supposedly by following instructions posted on a website called Albert Einstein.
The prosecutor then said that there were educational films made about the Serbian revolution that had been translated into Persian and distributed among the reformists. He claimed that one such movie had been edited by Nader Sedighi, who is a host of a Persian radio broadcast from the U.S. called Radio Sedaaye Iran (Voice of Iran Radio). According to the prosecutor, Sedighi supposedly introduced Dr. Kian Tajbakhsh to Dr. Saeed Hajjarian and Morstafa Tajzadeh, two important reformist leaders and strategists who have been jailed. Dr. Tajbakhsh worked with the Open Society until he was arrested by the Iranian government in May 2007 for four months. He was never charged, but arrested again on July 11, 2009.
The prosecutor than claimed that the "spy" had confessed that the "project" for overthrowing the Iranian government had three arms or branches: 1) investigative and research; 2) mass media; and 3) an executive arm -- each with organic links to organizations and foundations in the U.S.
The most important of such organizations is the Hoover Institution at Stanford University [the prosecutor referred to it as the Hoofer Institute!], which has a project called the Iran Democracy Project led by [Dr.] Abbas Milani [an Iranian-American scholar and author of several books on Iran], Larry Diamond [a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution], and Michael McFaul [professor of political science, and director of Center on Democracy, Development, and Rule of Law at Stanford University]. [The prosecutor referred to him as McFor!]
The prosecutor claimed, "To the CIA, [Dr.] Abbas Milani is even more important than Reza Pahlavi [the son of the late Shah of Iran], because he has good relations with the reformists, and also pays all the expenses of Akbar Ganji [the courageous investigative journalist who spent six years in jail for revealing some of the secrets about the infamous Chain Murders of 1998 and, more generally, the murder of many intellectuals and dissidents from 1988-1998.]"
The prosecutor then claimed that the "project" also has a very active [university] student group in which such people such as [Dr.] Fatemeh Haghighatjou [the courageous reformist deputy in the 6th Majles who has been sentenced to one year in prison in absentia] and [Dr.] Arash Naraghi [Assistant Professor of Religion and Philosophy at Moravian College in Pennsylvania] are active. He then claimed that they work with the ERP in Iran and some of its leaders, such as Mr. Atrianfar, who was in court today. The author knows Dr. Haghighatjou personally, and is sure that she does not work with the ERP. Even if she did work with the ERP, that should not be illegal, because the ERP is not an illegal political party -- at least not yet.
According to the prosecutor, the six active subgroups are:
(1) The women's [feminist] groups, representing a range of factions, including a group whose leaders are Shadi Sadr [a distinguished attorney and women's rights activist who was arrested and then released] and Shirin Ebadi [the 2003 Nobel Laureate for Peace]. They supposedly have links with NGOs in the Netherlands. A second group is led by Parvin Ardalan [a leading women's rights advocate and journalist]. A leftist group is supposedly led by [Dr.] Noushin Ahmadi [Hamadani] Khorasani [a leading journalist and a founder of the One Million Signatures Campaign, a civil society project whose goal is to abolish all the laws that discriminate against Iranian women].
(2) The ethnic minority group, supposedly led by Ebadi [presumably because Ebadi also speaks some Turkish!]; the Nationalist-Religious coalition is also supposedly active.
(3) The human rights group that, according to the prosecutor, is a "stick that the U.S. uses against its opponents." Ebadi and [Dr.] Hadi Ghaemi of Human Rights Watch [and the spokesman for the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran] are active in this group.
(4) The labor group, in which Iran's leading labor leaders, such as Mr. Mansoor Osanlou [a labor leader in Iran who has been imprisoned for over a year], are active. The National Endowment for Democracy has supposedly provided financial aid to this group, according to the prosecutor.
(5) The non-governmental groups (NGOs), which were important during the Khatami administration [more than 3000 NGOs were formed in that period], and supposedly led by Sohrab Razzaghi [in the Khatami administration, he was in charge of the NGOs in the Interior Ministry]. The prosecutor claimed that they received financial aid from Dutch NGOs, and hold educational classes in which people such as [Dr.] Hadi Ghaemi are active.
(6) The [university] student group that, according to the prosecutor, was weakened after the July 9, 1999 uprising, but recovered over time and is led by the Office for Consolidation of Unity [an umbrella organization for the most important university students organizations in Iran].
Note that no evidence whatsoever was presented by the prosecutor to support any of there claims. One thing they do show, however, is that these guys have quite an imagination! Note that, according to the prosecutor, practically every group in Iran (except for the conservatives) receives aid from foreign powers, groups, and organizations! In other words, every single person in the reformist camp is committing treason.
The prosecutor then claimed that the project actually started with cultural activities in the 1980s, when Dr. Soroush, who now leads a new breed of Muslim intellectuals, began publishing articles in Kayhan Farhangi [Cultural Kayhan]. That was during the time Mohammad Khatami was the managing editor of Kayhan. In other words, the prosecutor unintentionally admits that dissatisfaction with the right-wing goes back at least 25 years! According to the prosecutor, the goal was to destroy the foundation of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's thinking, and it was aided by such people as Drs. Mahmoud Sariolghalam, Naser Hadian, and Hadi Semati [all professors of political science in Iran], who began questioning [according to the prosecution] Iran's nuclear program, its aid to Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine, Iran's missile program, etc.
The prosecutor then spoke of a "grand plan" by the reformist, which began months before the election, to make people believe that there would be fraud in the election. They did not, according to the prosecutor, heed the call by the Supreme Leader not to talk about fraud, "which is what the 'enemy' wants people to believe." The prosecutor then gave several examples of such "propaganda" by the reformists, including several statements, press releases, and press conferences by the IRMO.
The prosecutor then claimed that the government had found at Mr. Nabavi's home forged documents, prepared by the Interior Ministry, which had been distributed widely. The reformists, according to the prosecutor, needed these forged documents to make accusations against the staff of the Ministry and deceive people into believing that vast fraud had taken place.
The prosecutor then quoted from several statements by the reformist leaders who had supposedly "confessed" that they had planned to use fraud as a means of inciting people and questioning the legitimacy of the election. They included Messrs Nabavi, Maziar Bahari [a reporter for Newsweek, who has been arrested], Abtahi, Tajzadeh, Ramazanzadeh and others. The prosecutor claimed that the IIPF, ERP, IRMO, and even members of the leftist cleric group, Association of Combatant Clerics, had participated in propagating these "lies" about fraud in the election.
Another tactic used by the reformist leaders, according to the prosecutor, was as Mr. Bahari has supposedly "confessed," had all the the classic markings of a color revolution: Mir Hossein Mousavi, the main reformist candidate, announced before the election results were known, that, "I am the victor of the elections, and if any other result is announced, it will be a fraud."
The prosecutor then quoted Mr. Abtahi (vice president to Mohammad Khatami) at length, about all the tactics used to de-legitimize the election.
The prosecutor outlined the steps that had supposedly been taken by the reformists to move the country toward a secular government, including the fact that the Khatami administration had allowed the formation of the NGOs an a vast scale. Khatami was supposedly quoted saying in a meeting of the Supreme Council for Cultural Revolution [an unconstitutional body that sets the cultural policies of Iran] that, "there is no way of avoiding secularism."
The prosecutor then accused the Center for Strategic Studies [an organ that was established by the office of the president after the Iran-Iraq war] of developing the theoretical framework for secularism during the Khatami administration. The prosecutor claimed that in an analysis prepared by Dr. Mohammad Reza Tajik of the Center and presented to Mr. Khatami, it was stated that, "In the near future no one can resist secularism, and we must also accept this fate of humanity." The prosecutor claimed that Dr. Tajik is a member of the central committee of the IIPF; but he is not a member, let alone a member of the central committee.
According to the prosecutor, inviting Jurgen Habermas [the German philosopher and sociologist] to visit Iran in 2002 was done with this purpose in mind [spreading secularism in Iran]. The prosecutor said that when Habermas traveled to Iran, there was a confidential meeting at the home of [Dr.] Mohsen Kadivar [the distinguished Islamic scholar who is currently residing in the U.S.]. It was attended by [Dr.] Saeed Hajjarian and [Dr.] Mohammad Mojtahed Shabestari [a progressive cleric and distinguished Islamic scholar who declared several years ago that he was no longer a cleric]. Even if this meeting took place, it was not clear why the prosecutor brought it up.
The prosecutor then claimed that in a joint meeting of the reformist parties, ways in which reformists could win support from the European Union were discussed. The prosecutor went further, claiming that Mr. Nabavi [of the IRMO] suggested the formation of an anti-dictatorship front, a group that would state in every declaration issued that the regime is not democratic. The prosecutor went on to make another outlandish claim, alleging both IIPF and IRMO had discussed surrendering Ayatollah Khamenei to U.S. forces, if the United States invaded Iran.
The prosecutor then claimed that some of the people who had been arrested had received military training in Camp Ashraf in Iraq, and were, in fact, members of the Mojahedin-e Khalgh-e Iran, an armed opposition group listed by the State Department as a terrorist organization. [Camp Ashraf is where members of Mojahedin-e Khalgh-e Iran live. Just a few days ago, it was overrun by Iraqi forces.] One of them had been active in the campaign of Mahdi Karroubi, the second reformist candidate. They had links to U.S. officials in Iraq, and had led demonstrations and riots in several Iranian cities. Another member [Amir Reza Arefi] was supposedly in contact with the CIA, and had planned to explode powerful bombs at several polling stations.
The prosecutor then accused Mr. Emad Bahavar, who is responsible for the youth wing of the Freedom Movement and is a member of its political directorate [he had been arrested, but was released on Friday], of infiltrating the Mousavi campaign and trying to organize the young supporters of Mousavi for demonstrations before and after the election, and making movies about him. [Freedom Movement is a nationalist-religious group founded in the early 1960s by Mehdi Bazargan, the first prime minister after the 1979 Revolution, and led currently by Dr. Ebrahim Yazdi, a key aid to Ayatollah Khomeini and Foreign Minister in the Bazargan government.] His goal, according to the prosecutor, was to spread secularism, and to weaken "the holy system of the Islamic Republic."
After reading a list of charges against many other young people who have been arrested during the demonstrations, Mohammad Ali Abtahi, vice president to Mr. Khatami and a leading figure in the Karroubi campaign, and Mohammad Atrianfar, a leading member of the ERP and active in the Mousavi campaign, spoke. Their speaking points were very similar.
When Abtahi was led into court, he was clutching a piece paper presumably containing what he was to "confess." He had told his family on Wednesday that they [the security agents] had put him on medication that "relieves him of all pressures and relaxes him."
Abtahi said that he was opposed to Mousavi running for president because "he had been out of office, and that could give him the wrong impression about the country, which could be harmful to the nation." He said that he thought that the mentality of Mousavi was such that he would think that fraud at such a large scale [11 million votes] was possible, whereas the reformist had always thought that the possibility of fraud is only up to two million votes. Therefore, if the difference between the reformists' votes and Ahmadinejad's is more than 2 million, there would be no possibility of fraud
Abtahi said that getting people in the streets before the election was an exercise setting the stage to make claims of fraud and demonstrating after the election. He also said the fact that Mousavi declared victory before the results were announced and the fact that Khatami had congratulated him clearly showed they were misguided from the outset.
Abtahi also said that, "We did not hear the voices that we should have, or we did not hear all the voices, and, in fact, we only heard the voices of the middle and upper class."
Abtahi then attacked both Khatami and Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president and powerful politician. He said that Khatami's support for Mousavi and campaigning for him constituted "treason." He also said that Rafsanjani wanted to take revenge against both Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Khamenei -- the two gave Mousavi the wrong ideas. He then criticized Khatami for dedicating all the resources of the Association of Combatant Clerics [the leftist clerical group] to Mousavi and declared that, "He [Khatami] had no such right." [Khatami leads the central committee of the Association.] He said that, "It was wrong of me to participate in the demonstrations [against the rigged election], but Karroubi told me that he cannot bring people out onto the streets after receiving so few votes [according to the official statistics, Karroubi received only about 285,000 votes]; but we must go to the demonstrations to protest."
Abtahi ended his "confession" in court saying, "It was a lie that the election was a fraud. In fact, fraud was used in order to organize riots so that Iran would become a country like Afghanistan and Iraq."
Everything that Abtahi stated in court ran contrary to everything he has been saying over the years and publishing in his personal blog, Webnevesht. In the past he had repeatedly said that, "such confessions are not accepted by the majority of society." It is interesting to note what he once wrote in his popular blog (before being arrested) about one of the "confessions" in the past by a political prisoner:
Everybody is happy [after the "confessions"]. The political establishment is happy because it believes that it has convinced people [of the accusations against the prisoner]. The prisoner is happy because [after the "confession"] he will be released, and he can speak differently [deny what he has "confessed"]. People are happy [not to have to accept them] because they know that the confessions were made in jail and obtained by force [torture]."
The show trials are a clear indication that the hardliners are extremely worried about the current situation and in retreat. As the world has focused its attention on Iran and its government, these Stalinist show trials will accomplish nothing but make people angrier.
Why do the hard-liners resort to such outdated tactics?
(1) The hard-liners desperately need to reassure their core supporters, because even they must find their behavior unacceptable. These supporters have probably started to entertain doubts about the legitimacy of the election, particularly after news of the horrible crimes committed in the detention centers came to light last week. Hardline officials themselves started to speak out.
(2) Everything that the prosecutor said was an attempt to imply that the three reformist parties -- Islamic Iran Participation front, Islamic Revolution Mojahedin Organization, and Executives of Reconstruction Party (a party that is close to Rafsanjani, and is referred to as his "left hand") -- were behind the demonstrations and the "velvet coup." By doing this, the hardliners are laying the foundation for declaring the three parties illegal.
(3) The hardliners are also trying to isolate Mohammad Khatami and Rafsanjani, by having some of the prisoners speak against them.
The IIPF issued a strongly-worded statement, condemning the show trials. Shirin Ebadi said that the prosecutor's opening statement contained at least "1000 legal mistakes."
The question remains: Why would a political system that claims to have received 64% of the votes cast in the June 12 election need to resort to torture, murder, and show trials?
Copyright (c) 2009 Tehran Bureau