The Show Goes On
09 Aug 2009 12:55
Show Trials, Part II
By MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles | 9 Aug 2009
[TEHRAN BUREAU] comment & analysis The second installment of the mass trial staged against reformist leaders and some of their supporters, was a lot like the first: The prosecutor read a long statement, which essentially amounted to a copy-and-paste job of articles and columns that have already appeared in hardline publications such as Kayhan, Javan, and the Fars News Agency, all of which have close links to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
The proceedings were supposedly open to the public, but the courtroom had been packed with police officers, "reporters" from hardline newspapers, and agents of the security forces, so that no supporters of the reformists or families of those on trial could get in. Many family members of those arrested, together with a large number of the reformists' supporters, had gathered outside the court. Some, including the wife and four children of Dr. Ali Tajernia -- he is the head of Tehran's branch of the Islamic Iran Participation Front (IIPF), which is the most important reformist group, and was a deputy in the 6th Majles (parliament) -- had been waiting outside the court for hours just to get a glimpse of their loved one, who they had not seen or even spoken to for weeks. Dr. Tajernia's wife and several other members of his family were arrested by security forces [since released]. In Iran of the hardliners, even gathering outside the court and attempting to see loved ones is an offense!
Present in the court among the accused were Dr. Tajernia, Dr. Ahmad Zeidabadi, a distinguished journalist close to the Nationalist-Religious Coalition and president of the Organization for the University Graduates of Islamic Iran (known in Iran as Advaar-e Tahkim), Shahaboddin Tabatabaei, a member of the central committee of the IIPF and head of the 88 Headquarters, an organization for monitoring the presidential election of June 12, Hedayat Aghaei, a leading member of the Executives of Reconstruction Party [an important reformist group], and Mohammad Javad Emam, a member of the central committee of the Islamic Revolution Mojahedin Organization (IRMO), another leading reformist group. Also present was Clotilde Reiss, a French citizen. The university student had been arrested while taking photos of a demonstration in Tehran.
An important figure not in court, and who was also missing from the first session last Saturday, was Mostafa Tajzadeh, an outspoken critic of the hardliners. Tajzadeh is a member of the central committee of both the IIPF and IRMO, and he was a deputy interior minister in the first administration of Mohammad Khatami. He is said to have been severely injured during the interrogation, and is in a military hospital.
The prosecutor failed to lay out a legal basis for arresting and putting these people on trial. What he read in court was a political manifesto, an analysis of the ongoing situation from the point of view of the hardliners. Once again, the prosecutor began by attributing the 85% turnout in the presidential election to people's satisfaction with the political system -- a bogus claim -- rather than the Iranian people's peaceful and legal way of trying to bring about much-needed change in the political system.
The prosecutor then described the so-called plans for a "soft overthrow" of the political system by foreign governments. The "grand" plan, according to the prosecutor, was put in place becasue:
(a) The victory of the Islamic Revolution had threatened the colonial interests of foreign powers in Iran and in the strategic area of the Persian Gulf, resulting in increased enmity toward Iran...
(b) [The prosecutor forgot about item (b)!]
According to the prosecutor, the West, led by the United Stated, has been trapped in the Iraq and Afghanistan quagmires. That, together with the defeat of the "Zionist regime" [Israel] in its 33-day war with Hezbollah [in Lebanon during summer of 2006] and its 22-day war in the Gaza Strip [in December 2008 and early January 2009], have greatly reduced the possibility of military options against Iran. As a result, along with other soft and covert actions being considered and used by the West against Iran, they have resorted to the information superhighway and other means of modern information dissemination.
The new policy of the West, especially the United States and Britain, for confronting the Islamic Republic, according to the prosecutor, includes these elements:
- Setting up [superficial] democracies that support the goals and interests of the West;
- Creating internal insecurity and strengthening the differences [between various groups] with the goal of hampering the Islamic republic internally, and
- [Finding ways to] contain Iran's power and influence in the region.
To achieve these goals, the foreign powers have been using the media, "public diplomacy," and the creation of popular organizations and communication networks [between them]; organizing the opposition with the goal of promoting civil disobedience and organizing peaceful struggle plays. And according to the prosecutor, they have devoted large budgets for all of these projects.
To set up a fifth column, Western intelligence agencies have been trying to exploit any opportunity [inside Iran, including the] use of internal opposition [to the political system] as their operational arms [within Iran]. [They have turned to such outlawed groups such] as the Freedom Movement (FM) [a nationalist-religious group led by Dr. Ebrahim Yazdi, a close aid to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and Foreign Minister in the first government after the 1979 Revolution] to create insecurity.
In the direction of the "grand plan," the hypocrite subgroup [meaning the Mojahedin-e Khalgh Organization (MKO), an armed opposition group in exile and listed as a terrorist group by the U.S. State Department] and ethnic groups, led and supported by foreigners, planted bombs [in public places], terrorized [the public], and created political and ethnic divisions [among Iranians]. They created a crisis, and carried out operations against the security [of the nation] during the presidential election. They attempted to assassinate one of the candidates in order to attribute it to Iranian officials within the political establishment to create doubts in all social groups in Iran.
The prosecutor also listed the elements of [the the alleged plan by the West for] overthrowing the Islamic republic of Iran as follows:
- Resorting to propaganda to make people believe there was an imperative need to change Iran's political system.
- Providing international support for labor unions, so-called human rights groups, and civil society groups opposed to the Islamic Republic.
- Imposing economic sanctions on Iran.
- Providing covert financial support for the internal opposition
- Identifying, attracting, and strengthening influential centers and people in society, including women, the youth, NGOs.
These elements were made operational before, during, and after the presidential election through public diplomacy and covert action. In effect, according to the prosecutor, all layers of society have been targeted by foreigners. He did not explain, however, why these foreigners thought that there were so many dissidents in all layers and classes of Iranian society, and why the foreign governments should have so easily been able to succeed in attracting and deploying them into action. Of course to do so, he would have had to acknowledge that a large majority of the population is deeply dissatisfied with the political system.
The prosecutor then read a long list detailing the ways in which one can achieve a "soft overthrow" of the political system, something which he called "public diplomacy" by the West. These included taking advantage of divisions between different groups in Iran; provoking civil disobedience through university student organizations, labor unions, and NGOs; emphasizing the importance of why the election in Iran needed international monitoring; supporting false human rights claims and democracy in Iran; helping to set up satellite TV and radio stations; supporting the internal opposition; granting visas to talented people that support the West; and inviting young people to take part in seminars outside Iran for training, similar to what they did in Serbia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Chile, Ukraine, etc. [all of which have supposedly experienced a "velvet revolution," in view of the hardliners].
The prosecutor said that the United States has established an office in its embassy in the United Arab Emirates, the Office for Iran Affairs, similar to the type of office it had in Riga, Latvia, during the Cold War [this is true]. According to him, the Office is active in attracting the Iranian elite and influencing their thinking, with the goal of convincing them to take action against the national interests of the Islamic Republic. He then quoted the U.S. State Department spokesman in order to support his theory.
But, because the U.S. plots failed when their agents within Iran were arrested [the prosecutor did not provide any information as to who these agents were], they developed an alternative concept based on "exchanges between the two nations." According to this alternative plan, many Iranians would be sent to the United States via U.S. offices in Dubai, Istanbul [Turkey], Baku [Republic of Azerbaijan], London, and Frankfurt [Germany]. This was accomplished through the George Soros Open Society, and other direct exchanges. [There is, of course, no direct link between such societies and the U.S. government.] Groups of 15 people are sent to the United States, all expenses paid, under the guise of such organizations as the Aspen Center, he charged. The prosecutor said that even this plot was defeated because their operatives were arrested by the Ministry of Intelligence [again, no further information or explanation was given].
According to the prosecutor, after comparing Iran with the Ukraine and Georgia [both of which experienced a "velvet revolution"], Western governments concluded that elections in Iran were the best way to advance their goals and bring about change without any direct interference. What he did not say was that the Iranian people themselves also thought the same in terms of the election. They also thought that, without any help from outsiders, similar to what takes place in other countries around the world, they too could participate in the electoral process and vote, a peaceful, inexpensive and legal way to bring about change in the system. Except that the hardliners do not accept the results of elections that they hold and supervise themselves -- unless the results go their way, that is!
Western governments also tried to achieve their goals, according to the prosecutor, by disrupting relations between the people and Iran's Supreme Leader [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei], a relationship that does not really exist; trying to reduce popular support for the "holy" political system of the Islamic Republic [both inside and outside the country]; tarnishing the credibility and the prestige of the Islamic Republic in order to prevent it from becoming a successful model for other countries.
The prosecutor then claimed that the British government has tried to approach Iran's political groups, contacting a well-known political figure in December 2008 and telling him that, "After you, we will seek out other political parties." [The prosecutor did not name the person, nor did he explain why he was not arrested.] The British diplomats also made frequent trips to many Iranian cities, particularly Qom, and contacted the election campaigns of some of the candidates.
The prosecutor did not explain why the government granted permission to the diplomats for the trips in the first place, especially when they are so suspicious of Britain, and why after the first trip, when it became obvious what the goal of the trips were, they still granted permission for all the subsequent trips. According to him, the British embassy constantly sent its local staff to the demonstrations [a reference to the arrest of 9 local employees of the embassy, 5 of whom were later released]. The British government went so far as creating "a VIP visa section" in its embassy to give it better access to the elites who may have information about the country.
Other tactics used, according to the prosecutor, included convincing young people to use the same tactics that were used during the 1979 Revolution [presumably a reference to the shouts of Allah-o Akbar (God is great) that Mir Hossein Mousavi asked people to chant from rooftops]; establishing contacts with active operatives of the 88 Headquarters (in particular, Mr. Reza Rafiei, one of the accused); providing people with advanced software programs that can translate English into Persian instantly so that people could read what the British press was saying about Iran; and activating a Persian Facebook as a means of putting people in contact with each other. The prosecutor did not explain why, if such actions did indeed take place, and if they were so serious, why Iran has not protested Britain's interference in Iran's internal affairs, and why it has not broken off diplomatic relations with Britain.
According to the prosecutor, other countries from the European Union also participated in this "grand plan" [as if in these tough economic times, interference in Iran's election was the most vital issue for these countries]. A German attorney established contact with his Iranian counterparts while staying in a hotel near where the "riots" were taking place. Two local employees of the German embassy were also active in collecting signatures from Iranian citizens, urging the United Nations Secretary-General [Mr. Ban Ki Moon] to travel to Iran [to inspect what had happened there]. Why the two employees were not arrested like the employees of the British embassy, according to this theory, was not explained by the prosecutor.
According to the prosecutor, the EU also supported demonstrations in front of Iran's embassies in European countries [presumably, the evidence for this support was that there was no violent crackdown on them by the EU, the method of choice by the hardliners in Iran]; threatened to recall their ambassadors from Iran and restrict the number of visas granted to Iranian diplomats. Granting protesters permits was another indication [since the hardliners do not grant such permits to the reformists to stage peaceful protests, they expect other countries to do the same, as they consider themselves a "successful model" for other countries.]
The prosecutor then made more accusations against the British government for trying to intervene in Iran, by influencing public opinion. According to him, Britain does this through its educational institutions, research centers, and by providing scholarships to Iranian students, invitations to Iranian scholars to spend their sabbaticals in Britain, and keeping in touch with them after they return to Iran. These are all coordinated by the British Cultural Council, according to the prosecutor.
These activities, coupled with what the British embassy was doing in Iran, were intensified as the June election drew near. In particular, the British embassy was collecting speeches given and opinions expressed by important civilian and military officials, Friday Prayer sermons, discussions on national TV and radio, in mosques, in the Bazaar, etc., and analyzed and summarized twice a week under the supervision of Thomas Burn of the British embassy in Tehran. [Presumably, such information was provided by, or "confessed" to by the local staff of the British embassy after they were arrested and jailed. Burn was expelled from Iran.] Two of the arrested local employees of the British embassy, Hossein Rassam and Arash Momenian, have "confessed," according to the prosecutor, that they were ordered to go to "illegal" gatherings held by Mousavi supporters and to report back to the embassy. Others had participated in various "illegal" demonstrations.
After the election, the British embassy staff, in the VIP visa section, met with an important reformist figure when he applied for a visa. They discussed what happened after the election, particularly after the "historical" sermons delivered by Ayatollah Khamenei on June 19 [when he announced that there was no fraud in the election and then threatened the nation]. Once again, the prosecutor did not explain why, with such a long litany of offenses committed by the British government, the Islamic Republic has not taken any strong action against Britain.
An interesting and revealing aspect of the prosecutor's presentation was its repetitious nature. Many accusations were repeated over and over again, word for word. Why? He either ran out of arguments or because after copying and pasting from Kayhan, Javan and other hardline publications, he didn't bother to eliminate repetitions.
The prosecutor also analyzed the role that the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) had played in all the events. One goal of the BBC, according to the prosecutor, was to increase the number of "citizen journalists." This is the term that the reformists used after their publications and other means of communication were effectively blocked, and many leading journalists [about 40] were arrested. Thus, they asked people to act as citizen journalists and report on what they saw. The prosecutor tried to imply that this was yet another evil British plot!
The prosecutor did not say that if the Iranian people do listen to and watch foreign radios and TV, it is simply because they cannot obtain accurate reports and news from domestic sources. The national radio and TV network is totally biased and one-sided, the press is heavily censored, and the most important journalists have been imprisoned. So, where should the people turn to for accurate news, reports, and analyses?
In yet another attempt to influence the public, according to the prosecution, the BBC started round-the-clock Persian programs. The BBC, according to him, emphasized continuing the protests [against the rigged election] and rejecting the results of the election; it identified the IRGC and the Basij militia as the agents of the military coup and emphasized the importance of their elimination; it blew out of proportion the differences between various layers of society; it emphasized the support of part of the elite for the opposition and the protesters [presumably a reference to Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri and other progressive clerics]; it increased pressure on the president [Mahmoud Ahmadinejad] to resign, and it encouraged counter-revolutionary and terrorist groups to take action.
Although the prosecutor had already accused the Freedom Movement (FM) of trying to overthrow the Islamic Republic, in another copy and paste job from Kayhan, he turned to them again and began repeating the accusations. According to him, Dr. Ebrahim Yazdi, the leader of the FM, made a three-month long trip to the United States [from February 2008-April 2008], after which his positions with respect to the political establishment were hardened. [Dr. Yazdi had traveled to the U.S. to treat his prostate cancer.] He began, according to the prosecutor, to explicitly speak about a "strategy for overthrowing the political system," adding 'peaceful' to it, which only means "soft overthrow." Dr. Yazdi also attacked, according to the prosecutor, the concept of Velaayat-e Faghih [guardianship of the jurist, the backbone of Iran's political system represented by the Supreme Leader], and said in an interview that, "It is about time to evaluate the performance of Velaayat-e Faghih. We believe that Iran's fundamental problem is the Velaayat-e Faghih." Dr. Yazdi's view is, of course, shared by many, but the hardliners do not see things that way.
Another "offense" of the FM, according to the prosecutor, was that it had established relations with other reformist groups, such as the IIPF and the IRMO, and that in doing so it was engaged in exchanging ideas and discussing various ways of getting Iran out of its present condition. Why such discussions were illegal in the first place was not clarified by the prosecutor. He then mentioned Emad Bahavar of the FM whose "offense," according to the prosecutor, was that he worked for Mousavi's campaign! [Bahavar was arrested, but recently released.]
The prosecutor then outlined the ways that the MKO has tried to take advantage of the protests against the rigged election. He mentioned that some of their supporters had been arrested. One has "confessed," according to the prosecutor, that he had gone to Iraq [presumably to Camp Ashraf, where supporters of the MKO live] to receive computer training. [Why would anyone need to risk going to Iraq to receive such training?] The prosecutor also claimed that MKO supporters had penetrated the campaign of Mehdi Karroubi [the second reformist candidate in the presidential election], and had even planned to set off a bomb at a stadium in Tabriz [in the northwestern province of Azerbaijan] where a campaign rally of Mousavi had taken place.
The next target of the prosecutor was the Iranian monarchists. According to him, a monarchist organization, the Association of Monarchists, had carried out an extensive campaign in Iran, from trying to discredit Islam, to exploding a bomb in a mosque in Shiraz, in the South of Iran [which killed several people], and collecting information on military installations. While one cannot rule out that a small fraction of the long list of "operations" by the monarchists might have been carried out, the author finds it hard to believe that the monarchists have a network in Iran that could carry out the extensive list of operations that the prosecutor mentioned, since it would need significant local support that the monarchists lack. Their leader, Reza Pahlavi, asked the Iranian people to boycott the election, but the people responded with an 85% turnout.
Note that, throughout the long political manifesto read by the prosecutor, no mention was made of any of the reformist leaders who have been arrested, even though some of them were present in court on Saturday. The reason is clear: There is no evidence linking them with any foreign power. Even Ahmadinejad's own Ministry of Intelligence has confirmed no evidence exists for such a link between the reformists and foreign powers; this report contributed to the firing of the Intelligence Minister, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei.
Thus, the entire statement was nothing but the usual rant against the reformists, and a repeat of the hallucinations expressed by the hardline newspapers. In carrying on in this fashion, the hardliners demonstrated their moral bankruptcy, their lack of legitimacy, and they demonstrated their fear in losing more supporters.
Update: Dr. Tajernia's wife, who had been arrested together with her brother and his wife, have since been released.
Copyright (c) 2009 Tehran Bureau