Tehran prosecutor gets away with torture and murder

During the protests of the Green Movement in 2009, many Iranian protesters were arrested, interrogated, tortured and imprisoned. Some were lucky and were subsequently released. Others remained in jail or were sent to jail again since then. And still others died as a result of being tortured. Three of these victims, Amir Javadifar, Mohammad Kamrani and Mohsen Rouholamini died from torture at the Kahrizak prison facility. They were sent to Kahrizak by the general prosecutor of Tehran,  Saeed Mortazavi, who then proceeded to falsify their cause of death as “meningitis”.

Mortazavi was not unknown to the victims: he reputedly visited the prisoners in Kahrizak and warned them to not divulge any information regarding the tortures (they did) and in order to cover up the evidence, transferred the prisoners who were set to be released to Evin prison for 2-3 weeks where they were taken care of in the clinic so that “the torture marks” on their bodies would not be “so visible”. The victims were forced to walk barefoot on hot asphalt, were beaten regularly, sometimes while being strung up to the ceiling, were forced into crowded cells, were living off meagre rations etc…For the survivors, the nightmare remains all too vivid even if they did flee the country.

While most victims and their families resolutely put their suffering behind them for fear of reprisals, the Rouholamini family decided to take Mortazavi to court on charges of murder and falsifying documents. Last month, Mortazavi was acquitted of the murder charges but was fined $60 for the falsified documents. The Rouholamini family has yet to give up and plan to appeal the decision.

During his trial, Mortazavi offered the court and victims’ families some sort of an apology accompanied by a self-exoneration:  “As I was the Tehran prosecutor at the time, I express shame for this terrible incident, even though it happened without any deliberate intention, as God and my conscience are my witness…the bloody incidents that happened after the great plot hatched during the June 2009 presidential election were described as a crime by the supreme leader of the revolution (Ali Khamenei), and I, the prosecutor at the time, deeply apologize and seek forgiveness from the innocent martyrs Javadifar, Rouholamini and Kamrani, and hope God Almighty would bless them with the highest rank”. It’s hard not to notice the irony in the fact that Mortazavi elevated the statute of the victims to “innocent martyrs” (after being charged as seditionists) and that he places the “blame” on the fact that Khamenei described them as “criminals”. In short, much as many Nazi officers claimed during their trials, Mortazavi was sorry but he was just doing his job and fulfilling orders from above.

But some of the surviving victims didn’t buy his apology: “His apology is an insult” says Reza Zoghi, a survivor who fled to Turkey on his release. He was held and tortured at  Kahrizak for 5 days and then sent to “recover” in Evin for 17 days until his release. Zoghi is not in a forgiving mood and feels helpless due to the fact that he is unable to take his case to court: “In fact, none of us were actually able to pursue our cases. In the end, only the Rouholamini family was able to drag Mortazavi to court. But what upsets me was that none of our names were mentioned during the trial. It’s true that we survived, but we were all tortured. Amir Javadifar died beside me as he was begging for water. I can never forget those moments”.

To be honest, Mortazavi is not blameless nor is he alone to be blamed. Mortazavi was part of the regime which exhibited zero-tolerance for anyone brave enough to voice criticism against it. Mortazavi is as guilty as the torturers of Javadifar, Kamrani and Rouholamini , as the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei who declared them criminals, as the president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who rigged the elections and as the intelligence and IRGC officers who handled the arrests and some of the tortures. For the survivors and the families of the victims, it’s uncertain what’s worst: the actual crime or the sham trial that exonerated the criminal and the actual people who tortured them (or led to their tortures) or the regime which orchestrated it. In any case, Mortazavi’s apology is too little too late.

The Green Movement, from its birth to its demise is a snapshot of everything that is rotten in the regime: It was born as a protest to what seems to have been a rigged election that brought Ahmadinejad into power and ended the minute Khamenei declared the movement’s leaders and participants as “seditionists”. The fate of the Green Movement remains one of the biggest fears for anyone in Iran who wants to criticize the regime or the all-powerful Supreme Leader who, as one unnamed Iranian diplomat said “is mainly interested in remaining in power…anyone who endangers that is either thrown in jail or gets shot“. Furthermore, the fate of the leaders of the Green Movement, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, who are still under house arrest after 5 years despite President Hassan Rouhani’s promise to release them, is a living testament to all would-be protesters – criticize the regime and lose your freedom and your human dignity, or, die. And there’s nothing that a “moderate” president can do about it as Barbara Slavin aptly put: “Probably he is the right man at the right time, and the best we can hope for…But he’s a cautious bureaucrat. He knows exactly how far he can go without riling up the supreme leader and other hardline elements of the country“.

The only hope for Iranians who do want to change their lives and increase their personal freedoms is either an implosion of the regime or a protest so massive that the regime will have to back down.

Brave Iranian women biking against the ban

On the 10th of September, Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, issued a “fatwa” (a religious decree which is law) forbidding women to ride bikes in public places for fear that they would attract “the attention of men and exposes the society to corruption”. Bicycles, he continued, “contravenes women’s chastity, and it must be abandoned”. His fatwa followed a declaration one week earlier in which he defined the “role and mission” of Iranian women as “motherhood and housekeeping”. In the process, once again, the regime in Tehran is finding new ways of turning its citizens into criminals.

The need to issue such a fatwa rose since women riding bike in public was considered a “sin” but there isn’t a law in the Iranian penal code regarding women on bikes. The issue of women on bicycles has been buzzing in Iran since around May when authorities began placing signs in parks which stated that “bicycle riding for women is prohibited in this place, women are set to ride at the women’s park”. Nobody really took notice until, July 26th, when security agents detained a group of women who had organized a cycling event, the Lake Bike Riders, to increase awareness to the ravages on the environment and to encourage citizens to forego the use of cars at least one day a week (Carless Tuesday). The women cyclists were taken to the police station to sign a “pledge” to never ride bicycles in public before they were released.

The absurdity of the fatwa and its oppressing effect on women, their health and the environment began attracting a lot of attention in Iran and the world but some (very) brave Iranian women have decided to take their protest to the next level. In cooperation with My Stealthy Freedom, a community on Facebook for women who try to enjoy their “stealthy freedom” by sharing pictures of themselves defying the oppressive regime by not wearing hijabs, Iranian women began uploading pictures and videos of themselves biking despite the ban – #IranianWomenLoveCycling. Masih Alinejad, the Iranian journalist and administrator of My Stealthy Freedom is sure that women who are willing to share their moments of stealthy freedom are the key for change in Iran: “Women in Iran want to be active in society but for the clerics that’s the big threat because in their (the regime’s) eyes, women should not be seen nor heard, stuck in the kitchen…women are the main agents of change”.

It’s hard for some people to understand just how brave these women who are sharing their pictures and videos on bikes really are. Men and women are sent to jail and even executed for “insulting the Supreme Leader” and protesting Khamenei’s fatwa is a huge risk. But that’s exactly the point: these women are willing to risk their freedom and their lives to be a part of the change even if it means doing something which might seem insignificant to some such as not wearing a hijab or riding a bike. Listening to these women is inspiring: “We immediately rented 2 bicycles to say we’re not giving up cycling…It’s our absolute right and we’re not going to give up”, “am I a criminal because I love life and I love cycling?”, “on that day (when the ban will be lifted), I will be proud that I did resist the oppression”, “we will do what we think and feel is right”. Listen to this woman expressing her feelings while riding with her mother.

It’s obvious that Khamenei will never overturn his fatwa since he cares less for the freedoms of women than for the support of the hardline men who make up his regime. Hassan Rouhani hasn’t voiced his opinion on this issue but judging from the past, he is powerless to fight the regime on social issues. In the past, he has called on the authorities to relax the implementation of hijab laws, to allow women to support the Iranian teams in sports stadiums etc…but he knows what everyone knows in Tehran: going against the Supreme Leader on any issue is the quickest way to disappear physically or politically. It makes no difference that he encouraged Iranian women to enjoy health lifestyles nor that he has expressed support for solutions to save the environment because as Barbara Slavin put it so simply “probably he is the right man at the right time, and the best we can hope for…But he’s a cautious bureaucrat. He knows exactly how far he can go without riling up the supreme leader and other hardline elements of the country”. Or as one Iranian politician who preferred to remain unnamed said “the leader (Khamenei) is mainly interested in remaining in power…anyone who endangers that is either thrown in jail or gets shot”.

But Rouhani will have to step out of his comfort zone if he intends to drum up votes in the upcoming presidential elections: it was the votes of women, liberals and secular Iranians which brought him to power – without their support, he is bound to lose. His loss will be the hardliners’ gain and the oppression of the civil rights and the personal and social freedoms of the Iranian people is bound to grow which will leave his disillusioned voters with a simple choice: bow down to the regime or rise up against it. The only hope is that if enough Iranian women decide to take the issue of their oppression to the streets, the regime will find itself in a no-win situation: accept the gradual liberation of women’s rights or crack down on the protesting women and face a huge backlash by Iranian women and their male supporters who would rather live a “normal” life than a “revolutionary” one.

 

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Saint Rouhani doesn’t need facts

Following on the path of Javad Zarif’s op-ed in the New York Times to “rid the world of Wahabbism”, Hassan Rouhani’s speech at the NAM meeting in Venezuela was filled with cynical half-truths and lies which are totally irrelevant of the facts. In fact, he sounded as if he is the president of a neutral country such as Sweden or Switzerland and not a country which is fueled by a strategy of expansionism, is involved in two proxy wars, is accused of numerous efforts to meddle in its neighbors affairs, is openly supporting terrorist organizations, is increasing the sectarian Shiite-Sunni divide, is oppressing women and sectarian/religious minorities etc…

Rouhani’s speech is all “peace and love” but is devoid of being factual:

  • Tehran is fighting “against extremism and terrorism” – Anyone mention Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and even al-Qaeda and the Taliban? OK, so one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, but doesn’t it bother Rouhani that Hezbollah is designated as a terrorist organization even by the Arab League? And doesn’t it seem strange that Tehran is supporting al-Qaeda (before and after 9/11)?
  • Tehran rejects the “hegemonic and domineering inclinations” of superpowers – OK but this obviously doesn’t include Moscow, of course, which has become Tehran’s BFF . Rouhani obviously knows that Russia is a superpower and yet, he doesn’t have qualms in allowing Russia to support Assad in his civil war while incessantly warning the US to stay out of the conflict. Perhaps what he really means is “Western superpowers”…that makes more sense.
  • Tehran rejects the support of the “West together with the East” – That was Khomeini’s motto to keep Iran unaligned and independent. Since then, the regime in Tehran has never looked to the West but wait, isn’t Moscow in the East? And isn’t Beijing, another superpower being wooed by Tehran also in the East?
  • Tehran is always ready to help out the “righteous” – Ahhhhhhhh…define “righteous”. Tehran’s definition of the “righteous” just happens to be Shiites and anti-Americans wherever they may be. That doesn’t include Syrian civilians who sided with the rebels against Assad (184,000 deaths to date). It also doesn’t include Yemenites who sided with the government against the Houthis. That doesn’t include the members of the Iranian resistance wherever they may be.
  • Tehran does not interfere “in the internal affairs of “other countries” – Yeah, yeah…Let’s start with Lebanon which has become a satellite state of Tehran through the empowering of Hezbollah. Move on to Syria in which Tehran chose to support Assad who doesn’t represent all of the Syrian people since the start of the civil war which was sparked by his unwillingness to hold free national elections. How about supporting the Houthi rebels in Yemen to overthrow the government there? Or empowering Shiite militants in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait,  and Nigeria? Not interfere? Tehran is the king of the “Meddle East“.
  • Tehran is avoiding “wounds inflicted every day on innocent bodies” – Wow…he obviously forgot about include the hundreds of thousands of civilian victims of Assad, Hezbollah, the Iranian army and Russia in Syria and the thousands of victims of Houthi rebels in Yemen. It also doesn’t include the 30,000 political prisoners who were massacred in 1988 by the regime. Oh, and the thousands of Iranians who are imprisoned, interrogated, tortured, flogged and executed for not toeing the regime’s line.
  • Tehran operate on a “policy of moderation, prudence and interaction to settle conflicts” – So that’s what it’s called. “Moderation” and “prudence” explain Tehran’s military involvement in Syria and in Yemen. They also explain Tehran’s meddling and subversive efforts in Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Wait…Saudi Arabia…yep, “moderation” and “prudence” explains the latest vicious rhetoric by Khamenei and the rest of the regime vilifying the Saudi leadership and the Saudi religion.
  • Tehran is a “pioneer in engaging in dialogue and talks” – OK, that really depends when the “pioneering” began. Until Rouhani was elected, Tehran consistently rejected any dialogue with the West since 1979. Ahmadinejad’s presidency was notorious for ignoring calls to negotiate and antagonizing possible negotiating partners. Tehran ignored the calls of the IAEA and the UN to hammer out a nuclear deal for years. Perhaps Rouhani should have said “pioneer since 2013”. That’s about right.
  • Tehran is trying to create a “new order” through “cooperation and the collective participation of all the neighbors” – What “new order”? Well, as Zarif pointed out, Iran is different from all countries because it wants to change the “international order”. By this he was referring to the goal and duty, imbedded within the Iranian constitution, to Export the Revolution to the “oppressed”. And then there’s the Global Islamic Awakening against the West or the New Islamic Civilization Khamenei loves to fantasize about. And how about the “cooperation and collective participation”? The people of Syria didn’t ask to import the new order, neither did the government of Yemen and Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States aren’t exactly “cooperating” with Iran in developing such a “new order”.
  • Tehran is against “interference of outside powers” in internal affairs – Whaaaaaaaaaaaat? Tehran? Against interference? What’s really peculiar is that Tehran doesn’t see itself as “interfering” nor does it see itself as an “outside power”. And yet Tehran is “interfering” as an “outside power” in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia etc…. Hell, it even invited the “interference” of an “outside power” when it agree to allow Moscow to support Assad in his civil war. Seriously, how can “Exporting the Revolution” not interfere with governments who do not want such a revolution to occur in their countries?

Are you getting the picture here? Rouhani is telling the NAM states what they want to hear: That Tehran is run by a peace-loving regime, is unaligned with any super-power, is fighting extremism and terrorism and is averse to interfere in any country’s internal issues. With such a great message, who cares about the facts?

Mr. Rouhani, it’s OK to believe that if you repeat the same lies enough times, people will believe you. But if you don’t take responsibility for your problems and weaknesses, at some point, your credibility is bound to plunge. Just as in the case of Zarif’s attack on Wahabbism, it’s easy to agree with many of the points that you shared in your speech – if all nations, including Iran, would act according to how you described your regime’s purported guidelines, the world would definitely be a better place to live in. Until then, remember, you can fool some of the people some of the time but you can’t fool all the people all the time.

 

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Zarif scores points BUT loses credibility

Reading Javad Zarif’s op-ed in the New York Times, “Mohammad Javad Zarif: Let Us Rid the World of Wahhabism“, is bewildering: he hits the problems of extremist Wahabbism right on the nail but the fact that he doesn’t take responsibility, let alone mention, Iranian-backed extremism and terrorism (including non-Shiite organizations such as Al-Qaeda) makes his whole argument less credible and more akin to propaganda. Had Zarif admitted to Tehran’s support of terrorism, his call would have greatly increased in credibility. As it is, Zari’s tirade against Wahabbism sounds like a speech by a pathetic alcoholic in denial at an AA meeting.

What makes Zarif even less credible is that his call “rid the world of Wahabbism” is really a call to pressure Saudi Arabia, no more no less. Since Wahabbism is a key part of Saudi Arabia, eliminating Wahabbism is really another way of trying to eliminate Saudi Arabia. Zarif knows this all too well. All forms of extremism, Shiite or Wahabbist, should be eradicated but a call to eradicate Wahabbism is like a call to eradicate Shiism. Had someone from Saudi Arabia called on the world to “rid the World of Shiism”, Zarif would be the first to call the Saudi speaker a “racist” and a “sectarian” whose purpose is to divide Islam, and, to be honest, he would be 100% right. Zarif knows this all too well but he is so focused on answering Tehran’s PR needs that he conveniently put such thoughts aside.

Zarif is playing the role of the crafty diplomat who is more adept at a bazaar haggle than in the real world: he did this outstandingly during the negotiations on the JCPoA and he is trying to do the same now with Saudi Arabia. His strategy is simple: attack and soothe then attack and soothe over and over again. Listen to Zarif attacking Saudi Arabia: Saudi rulers are “callous and capricious rulers unfit to rule the sacred lands”, their “petty, malicious, and sectarian extremist” policies which “beget, foster, and spread terrorism”, their allegiance to “serving their imperialist and Zionist patrons” and their responsibility for “the most pernicious and abominable acts of atrocity in the history of nations and to infest them with extreme levels of hatred”. OK, we get it. Now listen to this following quote: “We invite Saudi rulers to put aside the rhetoric of blame and fear, and join hands with the rest of the community of nations to eliminate the scourge of terrorism“. Shouldn’t Zarif “put aside the rhetoric of blame and fear” first in order to be credible in his conciliatory call on Saudi Arabia to “join hands”? Will the real Zarif please stand up?!

Even Zarif’s repeated mention of the “Zionists” is beginning to wear out. Whenever there’s a problem with Saudi Arabia, with the Gulf States, with the Arabs, with the West, with anything, it’s always convenient to have a scapegoat to blame: Zionistic Israel and the fate of the maligned Palestinians. Listen to Zarif explain the source of the conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia: “The tragedy of Palestine, the center of anger and desperation felt in the Muslim world, is at the heart of this crisis“. Is it really? Or is the cause of the Palestinians simply an effective way to galvanize support for Iran amongst Muslims? Nobody in Tehran ever mentions the plight of the Palestinians in Jordan. No one in Tehran offered the Palestinians to live and thrive in Iran. No one in Tehran has ever offered to mediate a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. No, the Palestinian cause isn’t Tehran’s goal – the Palestinians are simply Tehran’s pawns in a game of political chess to dominate the region.

But Zarif’s attacks on Wahabbism don’t stop only in regards to terrorism. Here’s Zarif on one of his favorite, and least credible, topics: “Today, interference in internal affairs of other countries, occupation, and extremism have posed threats not only to the world’s peace, security, and development but to the solidarity of NAM state members“. Once again, Zarif “forgets” to mention that interfering in other countries’ affairs is one of Tehran’s specialities since it is part of its revolutionary ideals (“Exporting the Revolution) and is even part of Iran’s constitution. He “forgets” to mention Tehran’s continuous meddling in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain etc… He “forgets” to mention that Tehran has developed a well-oiled strategy of using local and mercenary proxy organizations to meddle without being physically there.

Zarif isn’t alone in this strange mud-slinging contest in which Tehran slings mud at Saudi Arabia and then cries foul when mud is slung back from Riyadh: It’s an integral part of the regime under Hassan Rouhani. Rouhani, in fact, instigated this strategy from the day that he launched his World Against Violence and Extremism (WAVE) initiative at the UN 3 years ago. In one master stroke, he presented Iran as a champion against terrorism without mentioning once (in three years) Tehran’s role in the resulting Islamic violence and extremism.

Since he became president, Rouhani has mastered the art of repackaging Iran as a Middle Eastern Switzerland: “For us, peace and non-interference in domestic affairs of other countries, their national sovereignty, consultation and coordination on issues of the developing and entire world are important”. It’s not hard to notice that he doesn’t mention Tehran’s political and military interference in domestic affairs in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain etc…He doesn’t mention how without Tehran’s “interference” Bashar al-Assad would have been forced to agree to a general election to prove whether he really is the choice of the Syrian people nor does he mention how the Houthi rebels would never have successfully ousted the Yemenite government without the support of Tehran. “Non-interference”? Yes, only when it is in Tehran’s benefit. When it isn’t, Rouhani and Zarif are quick to point out that they aren’t really interfering, only “helping”.

The bottom line is that Tehran has become very adept at creating myths based on populistic lies which totally lack any form of responsibility. These myths are churned out by the regime and retold constantly until it might seem like the truth. ISIS is “the problem”…the US is “the problem”…Saudi Arabia is “the problem”…Israel is “the problem”…the Iranian resistance is “the problem”…everyone is “the problem” except, of course, for the regime in Tehran because the regime is above any criticism and criticizing the regime is a sin which can send you to jail or to the gallows.

No, in order to be credible, Tehran first has to own its own problems and weaknesses. Yes, the whole Western world and the whole Arab world might be theoretically wrong about accusing Tehran for all the problems in the Middle East but in practice, the stubborn theocratic regime in Tehran is definitely not blameless and as long as it continues to act the part of the wrongly accused saint, no progress can be expected in trying to cool down the multi-level conflicts in the region which appears to be ready to blow up and take the world with it.

 

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Tehran beating on the drums of war

Tehran is becoming more aggressive by the day. This heightened level of aggression is manifested in incessant taunts which are meant to elicit some form of aggressive response from Tehran’s enemies which can generally be categorized as Saudi Arabia, the US, Israel, the PMOI (Iranian resistance in exile) and anyone who supports them. It’s not that any of this is totally new to Tehran but the levels of aggression have risen sharply over the past few weeks. Examples of Tehran’s increased aggressive behavior can be found on many levels:

  • Increased anti-Saudi rhetoric
  • Increased anti PMOI rhetoric and military maneuvers
  • Increased military maneuvers in the Persian Gulf
  • Increased military presence in Syria and in Iraq
  • Increased talk of Russian-Iranian military alliances
  • Increased hardline speeches by Iranian “moderates”

Tehran will probably not be the first to take these aggressions to military level against any of its enemies since it prides itself on not starting wars but the increase in aggressive behavior from Tehran points to one direction: Tehran is willing to taunt enough people in order to be attacked and it feels safe enough by Moscow’s side to say and do whatever it wants.

 

More anti-Saudi rhetoric

Last week, Khamenei relaunched his tirade against Saudi Arabia with a vengeance as it became clear that neither Riyadh nor Tehran were ready to get over their differences in regards to the agreements needed to allow Iranian pilgrims into Saudi Arabia. Khamenei’s rant represented a distinct escalation and was vicious even by his standards: The Saudis, he ranted, are “oppressive”, “arrogant”, “faithless”, “blaspheming” “murderers” who are in collusion with the US and Israel and have made Saudi Arabia “unsafe” for pilgrims and for that reason, he called on Muslim countries to “fundamentally reconsider” Saudi Arabia’s management of the holy sites, although he didn’t offer any advice on how such a “reconsideration” is to take place.

Rouhani echoed Khamenei’s rant and called for Muslim unity (“the “Hajj period should be regarded as a chance to safeguard the interests of the Muslim Ummah and foster unity within the Islamic community”) against Saudi Arabia by calling on Muslim countries to “take coordinated actions to resolve problems and punish the Saudi government”. But he didn’t stop only at the issue of the Hajj: “If the existing problems with the Saudi government were merely the issue of the hajj… maybe it would have been possible to find a way to resolve it…Unfortunately, this government by committing crimes in the region and supporting terrorism in fact shed the blood of Muslims in Iraq, Syria and Yemen”. Finally, he added his own thoughts on his favorite subject, terrorism: “Regional stability depends on ending support for terrorism…everyone knows which countries are assisting them from inside and outside the region and which countries are supplying terrorists with weapons and armaments”. Of course, Rouhani doesn’t mention how Iran and its terrorist proxy, Hezbollah, are shedding Muslim blood in “Iraq, Syria and Yemen” nor does he mention how Iran is supporting terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah, an organization designated by the western world and the Arab League as terrorist but designated as “shining freedom fighters” in Tehran.

And what about Javad Zarif, Tehran’s star diplomat? He joined the attack and sounded more like Khamenei than Khamenei himself: “Saudi rulers are brazen enough to openly express alliance to the Zionist regime; they have abused and taken hostage sacred Islamic shrines in line with their petty, malicious, and sectarian extremist policies in serving their imperialist and Zionist patrons; ‘stupidity,’ ‘fanaticism,’ ‘intransigence,’ and ‘unlimited wealth’ have rendered the Saudi family callous and capricious rulers unfit to rule the sacred lands, with a penchant for ‘beget, foster, and spread terrorism’ to plague the world and larger parts of the Middle East including Iraq, Syria, and Yemen with the most pernicious and abominable acts of atrocity in the history of nations and to infest them with extreme levels of hatred spewed by its unexperienced rulers”. This is the same Zarif who had told an Omani minister only one week before to “abandon the illusion of rivalry” in the region. “Illusion of rivalry”? Mr. Zarif, this is no “illusion”, this is a reality in which a “cold war” developed into a series of “proxy wars” and is now in danger of developing into an all-out frontal war which is bound to engulf the whole region in flames.

The recalling theme of Riyadh’s ties to the “Zionist” cause is partly true: the main reason that Israel is warming up to diplomatic and other ties with the Gulf States is the mutual fear of Tehran. Of course, the Saudis and the Arab League will not openly endorse a firm relationship with Israel as long as the Palestinian issue isn’t dealt with but the Arab States are also cooling a bit on the Palestinian issue specifically because Tehran’s influence on Hezbollah and even Hamas continues to grow. If the gulf States are more open to dealing with Israel, Tehran can only blame itself…or perhaps, that’s exactly what Tehran wanted from day one – to place Saudi Arabia with Israel against the Palestinians.

In any case, the guys in Tehran didn’t get the support they needed from the Muslim countries, specifically, the members of the Arab League who joined Saudi Arabia’s call to Tehran to stop politicizing the Hajj. Tehran reacted in the expected manner and called again on the Arab League to pressure Saudi Arabia to stop funding terror and to stop killing civilians in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain, without mentioning, once again, its own supports for terrorist organizations and its own responsibility for the deaths of Syrians, Iraqis and Yemenites.

But Tehran didn’t give up yet: Both Khamenei and Ali Larijani, the head of the Iranian parliament, called for an international “fact-finding” commission to investigate last year’s disaster in Mina. But then again, no one in his right mind in Tehran would support an international fact-finding commission in regards to the 1988 systematic massacre of 30,000 political prisoners by the regime.

 

More military actions and rhetoric

But Tehran’s aggressive mood isn’t aimed only at Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies and the chances of the Tehran-Riyadh conflict evolving into an open war seem slim despite the constant taunts from both sides. Tehran’s enemy of preference remains the US and it has backed its fiery rhetoric against the “Great Satan” with some military taunts as well.

Tehran seems to have made a strategic decision to harass the US Navy which sends out regular patrols to the Persian Gulf. Unlike the case last year in which the Iranian navy boarded a US Navy vessel which mistakenly entered Iranian territorial waters, the Iranians are now harassing US navy ships and planes in international waters and air-space: It sent some of its boats to harass US cruisers until the Americans fired some warning shots and it warned Navy pilots that they would be shot down even though they were flying in international air-space.

This may sound like a storm in a tea-cup since no harm was done, but the rhetoric from Tehran is just as taunting: the Iranians denied overstepping international laws and claimed that “the (American) claims are not only untrue, but stem from their fear of the power of the Islamic Republic’s soldiers”.

But it’s not only about military actions. Javad Larijani, Iran’s chief of human rights, advised Tehran to begin developing a nuclear bomb within 48 hours and not be worried about sanctions: “we must know that we do not fear and that we are ready”. Ready for what? For more sanctions? For a war? A world war?

Up until now, Tehran has always placed great emphasis on the fact that its army was for defensive purposes and as such, strengthening the army’s capabilities was a natural right since it’s meant to defend itself. This frame of thought is in tune with Tehran’s pride in not initiating a war or invading a country in centuries but this logic comes apart in regards to the numerous long-range missile tests and the numerous countries in which Iranian armies or its proxies are actively fighting – specifically in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Tehran’s military activities in all these countries is growing, not diminishing as can be viewed from the growing number of Iranian troops fighting in Syria and in Iraq and from the continuous presence of Qassem Suleimani, Iran’s star chief of its elite Qods unit, in the battlefields.

And then, But Khamenei issued a statement in which he stressed that Iran’s “defensive and offensive capabilities” is an “inalienable and clear right”. The addition of the “offensive” to the “defensive” was a first for Khamenei. Why did he choose to stress the offensive capabilities of Iran’s army now?

 

Why now?

Timing is everything and now seems to be an ideal time for Tehran to become more aggressive.

On the one hand, Tehran is frustrated with the ongoing wars in Syria and in Yemen which do not seem close to a victorious end for Iran but on the other hand, Tehran enjoys an unparalleled support of Russia in many levels – both of which explain the rise in aggressive behavior.

Furthermore, Tehran’s growing conflict with Riyadh is creating a situation in which all countries with any connection to the region have to take sides and on the whole, the Arab countries chose to ally themselves with Saudi Arabia.

And then there’s the issue of the West’s support of the PMOI, the growing exiled Iranian resistance which is creating a lot of tension within the regime.

Finally, Tehran is gearing up for the next presidential elections and Khamenei’s hardline tone is being echoed by hardliners like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who is calling for a redefine “revolutionary ideals” and is forcing Rouhani to become more hardline if he wants to win a second term.

But perhaps the single element which is most instrumental in increasing Tehran’s aggression is Khamenei himself, or more specifically, the legacy that Khamenei wants to leave after his death. The nuclear deal that Rouhani brokered together with Zarif might have achieved its initial purpose in lifting nuclear-related sanctions and allowing Tehran to openly ally itslef with other countries.

But the nuclear deal did not sit easily with Khamenei who kept on stressing his “red lines” only to watch some of his “red lines” crossed. The further complications with non-nuclear sanctions only increased Khamenei’s distaste for signing a deal with the “Great Satan”.

And then, there is his cherished vision of a “Global Islamic Awakening” and a “New Islamic Civilization” which is slipping away from him at a time when his health is deteriorating and his death is approaching. For Khamenei, now is the time to instill in Iran the pride of his Revolutionary Ideals and take on the world because the last thing that he will want to be remembered for is that Tehran capitulated to the Western powers under him..

Will Iran finally unleash its aggression? Will it attack Saudi Arabia or make a run for a nuclear bomb? Will Russia continue to support Tehran in these cases? No one really knows but one fact is certain: Tehran has had enough of being aggressive under cover and too many people in Tehran are itching for a war…specially its Supreme Leader, Khamenei.

 

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Nazanin convicted to 5 years in jail in Iran!

After 150 days in jail, Nazanin Ratcliffe, the English-Iranian mother who was arrested in Iran while visiting her family finally got her day in court only to be convicted to five years in jail for “secret charges” in a closed door session headed by the notorious “hanging judge” Salavati. For the past five months, Nazanin was interrogated, was allowed only three phone calls home and had little contact with her lawyer only when her trial began about a month ago. Her two year old daughter, Gabriella, remains in the custody of her grandparents in Iran since she is not allowed to leave the country while Nazanin’s husband, Richard, remains in London out of fear that he too may be arrested if he visits Iran.

The timing of Nazanin’s conviction borders the absurd as, only yesterday, diplomatic relations between the UK and Iran resumed as the UK appointed Nicholas Hompton as its ambassador in Iran following the resuming of British Airways flights to Tehran. But not everyone in Tehran is happy about the renewed diplomatic relations: a hardline Iranian MP, Allaedin Boroujerdi, warned that “the British diplomat needs to be constantly monitored, since the UK has had a negative record both before and after the Islamic Revolution” .

Nazanin’s case exemplifies the absurdity of Tehran’s paranoia of “foreign infiltration”: she was originally charged with trying to overthrow the regime although the details of how she is supposed to have done this were not procured by the Iranian authorities. In fact, it seems as if Nazanin herself was not made aware of what the “secret charges” against her really were. She was stripped of her UK nationality since the regime in Tehran does not recognize dual nationalities. She, like many other Iranian political prisoners, did not have the privilege of a fair trial, meeting her lawyer only a few days before her trial began and the judge chosen to rule over her case, Abolqassem Salavati, known as the “hanging judge” in Iran, is notorious for his harsh sentences.

But Nazanin is not alone in her predicament: at least five more foreign nationals are in prison in Iran awaiting trial for similar charges. These include: Homa Hoodfar , a Canadian-Iranian retired professor visiting family in Iran,  Siamak Namazi , an American-Iranian businessman and Baquer Namazi , his 80 year old father who was imprisoned when he tried to free his son,  Robin Shahini , an American-Iranian while visiting his family in Iran and Nizar Zakka, an American resident from Lebanon who visited Iran. In some cases, such as in the case of Robin Shahini, there is some information regarding the case against him – he criticized the regime in Iran for its horrid human rights record on his Facebook page. But in all cases, the charges are the usual “spying”, “colluding to overthrow the regime”, “propaganda against the regime” etc…, charges which cannot really be defended against since they can include any criticism of any kind, verbal, visual, written or video.

Petitions to free Nazanin were signed (over 800,000 to date), UK politicians, global NGO’s and activists all called for her immediate release but Tehran isn’t listening to anyone but its hardline regime and most of all, its Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei whose paranoia of Western “infiltration” and “influence” has become a guiding light for the regime. Even Hassan Rouhani, who people claimed to be the wished-for moderate who could change Iran, is helpless when it comes to dealing with hardliners and with Khamenei.

Five years in jail…five years for a crime she might not even be aware of. Imagine being unable to plan for anything until 2020…five years from now. And since there is no date for her appeal, no one knows how much of this time Nazanin will rot in jail. Since her health has deteriorated and she has lost a lot of weight, her best hope is that the UK will broker a prisoner exchange, with or without a ransom, just as the US did for the American prisoners who were languishing in jails in Iran when the nuclear deal was signed.

 

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Khamenei divides Muslims over Hajj

With barely three days left before the beginning of the Hajj pilgrimage and no chance for Iranian pilgrims to participate, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, is doing all he can to turn the upcoming Hajj into a sectarian riot pitting Muslims against Muslims.

Khamenei’s vilification of Saudi Arabia left no holds barred: “Saudi rulers… who have blocked the proud and faithful Iranian pilgrims’ path to the Beloved’s House, are disgraced and misguided people who think their survival on the throne of oppression is dependent on defending the arrogant powers of the world, on alliances with Zionism and the US…Because of Saudi rulers’ oppressive behavior towards God’s guests, the world of Islam must fundamentally reconsider the management of the two holy places and the issue of hajj…The hesitation and failure to rescue the half-dead and injured people (in regards to the Saudis’ purported mismanagement of the stampede in last year’s Hajj in which 2,700 pilgrims died) is also obvious and incontrovertible…They (the Saudis) murdered them (the dead pilgrims)…Blasphemous, faithless…The world of Islam, including Muslim governments and peoples, must familiarise themselves with the Saudi rulers and correctly understand their blasphemous, faithless, dependent and materialistic nature…They have placed pilgrims from the participating countries under unprecedented surveillance with the help of the spy agencies of US and the Zionist regime. They have made the divine sanctuary unsafe for everybody“.

All this, supposedly, because Iran and Saudi Arabia did not reach an agreement on Iranian pilgrims’ participation in the Hajj but the real reason is the ongoing regional conflict, a mixture of cold war and proxy wars, between Tehran and Riyadh. What broke the deal? Well, no one knows for sure but here are some of the details.

  • Visas: Since Saudi Arabia cut its diplomatic ties with Iran following the storming of the embassy in Tehran by an organized mob, the Saudis offered to procure visas through the Swiss embassy in Tehran – no comment on this from Iran.
  • Flights: Saudi Arabia offered to allow direct flights from Tehran – the Iranians claimed that the offer was bogus from the start and that no arrangements for direct flights were made.
  • Politicization: Iran demanded the right to hold “rituals” and gatherings – the Saudis refused fearing that these events would turn into political demonstrations and protests.
  • Sign: Iran was to sign an agreement which was signed by 70 other countries participating in the Hajj – Tehran refused to do so and the talks fell apart.

Whatever the case may be, Khamenei’s vilification of Saudi Arabia on so many levels is bound to be accepted by many Shiites and pro-Iran Muslim pilgrims who might choose to vent their anger at the Hajj leading to another disaster, but this time, with major political and perhaps even military repercussions.

All of this, at a time when Tehran continues to claim that it wants to unify Muslims all over the world under a grand “Islamic Awakening” when, in fact, it is only managing to unify some Muslims against Saudi Arabia and increasing the sectarian Shiite-Sunni conflict.

 

Khamenei is inciting Muslims to violence

Khamenei wants the world, especially the Muslim world, to believe that Riyadh is to blame and many will believe him. Others will believe that Iran should have signed the agreement and that the Saudis treated the Iranian delegation fairly. And so, despite numerous occasions in which Khamenei, Hassan Rouhani, Ali Larijani, Javad Zarif  and many other Iranian leaders called for Islamic unity, Khamenei is inciting division between supporters of Iran and supporters of Saudi Arabia, Shiites and Sunnis. Zarif in a meeting a few days ago called on Muslims to stop the “illusion of rivalry” in th eregion…maybe he should have spoken to Khamenei earlier about this.

And since pilgrims of both sides will attend the Hajj together, this sectarian division is bound to create another disaster during the Hajj…a disaster which might lead to reprisals and counter-reprisals which could ignite a huge Shiite-Sunni conflict.

Make no mistake, this isn’t another “diplomatic” spat…this is an incitement to violence and war on many fronts:

  • He blames Saudi Arabia for not reaching an understanding which would allow Iranian pilgrims to come to Saudi Arabia: this message will incite Iranians, Shiites and pro-Iranian Muslims.
  • He blames Saudi Arabia for being a pawn of “Zionism and the US”: this message will incite Muslims who are anti-American and anti-Israel.
  • He calls on Muslims to “reconsider” Saudi Arabia’s management of Mecca and Mina: this message will incite all Muslims who are pro-Iranian and anti-Saud.
  • He accuses Saudi Arabia of murdering the victims of last year’s stampede: this message will incite Muslims from countries of the victims.
  • He accuses the Saudis of being “blasphemous & faithless”: this message will incite all devout Muslims.
  • He accuses Saudi Arabia of spying on pilgrims with the aid of US/Zionists: this message will incite participating pilgrims.

This isn’t a diplomatic event…it is a call for violence, bloodshed and war in a holy place which is meant for all Muslims. And the timing is perfect: 3 days before the Hajj, as all pilgrims are getting ready to fly to Saudi Arabia. In  fact the timing is so good that it becomes easy to speculate that Khamenei’s whole anti-Saud speech was planned probably from the day that the Tehran refused to sign the agreement with Iran to allow Iranian pilgrims to participate in this year’s Hajj.

In any case, the whole issue has played out very well for Tehran since it can now try to “Export the Revolution” against its regional rival and nemesis.

 

Saudi Arabia on the defensive

Riyadh has repeatedly tried to show that Tehran is politicizing the Hajj in order to provoke the Saudis and incite pro-Iranian supporters. In fact, it did manage to create an anti-Iran Arab coalition against terror and a smaller anti-Iran Arab coalition against the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen. But this case is different and it is definitely more explosive.

The disaster in the last Hajj and the criticism over the way Saudi Arabia handled the disaster gave Tehran an ideal base from which to attack Saudi Arabia. Adding to this the fact that Iranian pilgrims will be forced to stay at home only increases the tension. But what makes the whole situation even more dangerous is the fact that out of the expected 3.5 million pilgrims to attend the Hajj, hundreds of thousands, or even millions, will buy into Khamenei’s populistic portrayal of the situation.

The Saudis are already on edge and have introduced strict laws regarding what the pilgrims can and cannot do. It can take only one anti-Saudi pilgrim to ignite anti-Saudi sentiment which can easily turn into another disaster. But this time, it won’t be viewed as an accident but as a sectarian political event which will give Tehran and other pro-Iranian countries a larger base from which to criticize Saudi Arabia.

And then, of course, there’s ISIS and a plethora of terrorist organizations who are looking for an opportunity to spill blood…a lot of blood. Terrorist can easily enter Mecca as part of the millions of other pilgrims and there are enough local Saudis who want a revolution and who are, in many instances, supported by Tehran in their ventures.

Khamenei’s narrative was as simplistic as it was vicious: the Saudis are mismanaging the holy sites and the Hajj, are responsible for murdering the victims of last year’s disaster, are in collusion with the “Great Satan and much worst, are “bad” Muslims.  The Saudi narrative will sound something like this:

  • It is the responsibility of Tehran that the Iranians cannot participate in this year’s Hajj since Tehran refused to accept the Saudis conditions which are equal to all countries.
  • It is Tehran which is increasing the division of Muslims by inciting Shiites and pro-Iranian Muslims to criticize and attack the Saudi government.
  • It is Tehran’s visions of “Exporting the Revolution” and a “Global Islamic Awakening” which are fueling Tehran’s anti-Saudi attacks.
  • It is Tehran who will be responsible for any blood spilt in Saudi Arabia during this year’s Hajj.

Some will side with Riyadh and others will side with Tehran. Let’s just hope that when Muslims from opposing sides meet, they will discuss prayers and theologies instead of fanning the flames of hate-inducing propaganda.

 

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Tehran tries to justify the 1988 massacre

The tape-recording of Hossein-Ali Montazeri, Ruhollah Khomeini’s would-be successor, describing his objections to the systematic massacre of 30,000 political prisoners in 1988 by the orders of Khomeini himself, is echoing increasingly louder despite the fact that the audio-file was online for just one day until the Ministry of Intelligence persuaded Montazeri’s son to delete it (he was then “interrogated” twice for sharing “state secrets” and was “offered” to sign an affidavit that he wouldn’t upload similar content in the future…he refused).

Within 3 months, approximately 30,000 politically prisoners, most of them supporters of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), were executed after short two-minute trials by the “death commissions”, or in some cases weeks of interrogations and torture. The whole process was systematically organized, from cutting off the prisons from communications with the outside world all the way up to transporting the bodies at night in refrigerated trucks to be buried in mass graves.

While most of the buzz outside of Iran is critical of the massacre and the people within the regime who carried it out, especially since some of them hold powerful positions in the regime today, the voices in Tehran are growing louder and more polarized. On the one hand, there are calls from the grass-roots levels and from political leaders who are echoing Montazeri’s objections with their own while other voices call to officially justify the massacre. And then, of course, there is the classic strategy of Tehran to simply blame the West for spreading propaganda – not one leader of importance has accepted the need to at least examine the legitimacy of such a massacre as well as the responsibility of the regime and the people within it.

One of the few politicians who did speak up is Mostafa Poumohammadi, then representative of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), and now the Minister of Justice. At first, Pourmohammadi denied his involvement and his responsibility in this heinous crime but then decided to come clean with a vengeance: “I didn’t even have ONE NIGHT OF SLEEPLESSNESS in all these years because I acted according to the law and Islamic Sharia“. It’s a fitting choice of words since on tape, Montazeri says clearly the opposite: “I HAVEN’T BEEN ABLE TO SLEEP and every night it occupies my mind for two to three hours…what do you have to tell to the families? How much (did the) Shah execute? Compare our executions to his“.

What is more horrifying? The fact that the regime massacred 30,000 defenseless prisoners for their beliefs, or the fact that some of those who were involved are actually proud of what they did, or perhaps the fact that those same proud people maintain top positions in the regime?

 

Listen to Khomeini

Khomeini’s fatwa, a religious decree which is law, was as short as it was deadly:

[In the Name of God, The Compassionate, the Merciful,]
As the treacherous Monafeqin [Mojahedin] do not believe in Islam and what they say is out of deception and hypocrisy, and
As their leaders have confessed that they have become renegades, and
As they are waging war on God, and
As they are engaging in classical warfare in the western, the northern and the southern fronts, and
As they are collaborating with the Baathist Party of Iraq and spying for Saddam against our Muslim nation, and
As they are tied to the World Arrogance, and in light of their cowardly blows to the Islamic Republic since its inception,
It is decreed that those who are in prison throughout the country and remain steadfast in their support for the Monafeqin [Mojahedin] are waging war on God and are condemned to execution.

In reaction to some criticism and objections to the massacre, Khomeini made his position clear: “Those who insist on their position of hypocrisy in prisons across the country, are enemies of God and condemned to death… It is naïve to have mercy on enemies of God… Those gentlemen who are responsible for making the decisions, must not allow themselves to have any speck of doubt…Anyone at any stage, if persists on hypocrisy, he/she is punishable with death. Swiftly, annihilate the enemies of Islam. As for the examination of the cases, those measure are preferable that would expedite execution of the verdicts…The decisiveness of Islam before the enemies of God is among the unquestionable tenets of the Islamic regime. I hope that you satisfy the almighty God with your revolutionary rage and rancor against the enemies of Islam. The gentlemen who are responsible for making the decisions must not hesitate, nor show any doubt or concern with details. They must try to be as ferocious as possible against infidels. To hesitate in the judicial process of revolutionary Islam is to ignore the pure and holy blood of the martyrs.”

As to Montazeri’s objections, Khomeini was even clearer: “Since it has been made clear that after me (Khomeini), you (Montazeri) will hand over Iran to liberals and through them to the Hypocrites, you have lost the competence and legitimacy for future leadership of the regime…the responsibility (of being Supreme Leader) requires more endurance than you have shown“.

The fact that all this was written by Khomeini in a time of duress as he “swallowed the poison” of making peace with Iraq is crucial: Khomeini, under pressure for not winning the war, focused his frustration on a much easier target – defenseless political prisoners who were serving time for being affiliated to the PMOI. And once again, he covers up any questions regarding the legitimacy of such a massacre with the “God-given” right of “revolutionary Islam” and the “holy blood of the martyrs”.

 

 

Listen to Montazeri

The audio-tape recorded a meeting between Montazeri on August 15th 1988 and Hossein-Ali Nayyeri, then the regime’s sharia judge and now head of the Supreme Disciplinary Court for Judges, Morteza Eshraqi, then the regime’s prosecutor, Ebrahim Raeesi, then deputy prosecutor and until 5 months ago Iran’s Attorney General and now the chief of the influential Astan Qods-e Razavi foundation, and Pourmohammadi, then the representative of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) and today the Minister of Justice.

During this meeting, Montazeri tried to put a stop to the massacre which had begun one month earlier. As Khomeini’s confidante and would-be successor, Montazeri had publicly voiced his objections for which he would be publicly disgraced and lose his shot at succeeding Khomeini. But in this tape, we can hear just how much he was horrified by the massacre:

  • Montazeri explains the historical ramifications: “The greatest crime committed during the reign of the Islamic Republic, for which history will condemn us, has been committed by you. Your (names) will in the future be etched in the annals of history as criminals…Beware of fifty years from now, when people will pass judgment on the leader (Khomeini) and will say he was a bloodthirsty, brutal and murderous leader…We will not be in power forever“.
  • Montazeri understands who is to blame: “Executing these people while there have been no new activities (by the prisoners) means that … the entire judicial system has been at fault…the people are now revolted by the Velayat-e Faqih (the regime)“.
  • Montazeri on the planning before the massacre: “(The ministry of) Intelligence wanted to do it (the massacre) and had made investments. And, Ahmad (Khomeini’s son) had been personally saying for three or four years (prior to the massacre) that the MEK (Mujahedin-e Khalq) must all be executed, even if they read their newspapers, publications and statements“.
  • Montazeri shares some grizzly details: “Someone was in prison. They said his sister was also accused. So, they went and brought his sister. They executed the man. Her sister had been imprisoned for only two days. She was only 15. They asked her sister what do you say? She said I liked these people. They said because her brother was executed, execute her as well…In Isfahan, a pregnant woman was among them [those massacred]. In Isfahan they executed a pregnant woman (he adds that in clerical jurisprudence) one must not execute a woman even if she is a mohareb(enemy of God). I reminded [Khomeini] of this, but he said they must be executed“.
  • Montazeri on dealing with the PMOI: “The Mujahedin-e Khalq are not simply individuals. They represent an ideology and a school of thought. They represent a line of logic. One must respond to the wrong logic by presenting the right logic. One cannot resolve this through killing; killing will only propagate and spread it“.
  • Montazeri asks for mercy: “For God’s sake, it is the month of Moharram, the month of God and the Prophet. At least feel some shame from Imam Hussein. Cutting off all meetings and suddenly engaging in such butchery!!… Is something like this done anywhere else in the world?
  • Montazeri on his feelings of guilt: “I haven’t been able to sleep and every night it occupies my mind for two to three hours … what do you have to tell to the families?…(I) will not have a response on the Day of Judgment…(It is my) duty to speak up and warn Imam (Khomeini)“.

It’s obvious that Montazeri felt that the atrocity being carried out on Khomeini’s whim was a tragic mistake for the regime and for Khomeini as well. He didn’t accept the legal or religious justifications and he was willing to stand up to try to stop the atrocity as he saw it clearly. Up until now, the regime continues to claim that it wasn’t an atrocity but a shining moment of the regime and of Khomeini.

 

 

Listen to the regime

Two weeks ago, the Assembly of Experts reacted to the furor over Montazeri’s tape-recording in the expected manner of the regime: the 1988 massacre was “a historic and revolutionary decision by his highness Imam Khomeini“, and “a prompt decision” to “deal seriously and decisively with the Hypocrites (the Mojahedin)“, indicating Khomeini’s “deep and insightful understanding.” In fact, Khomeini’s fatwa is described as a decision to have a “fair trial for leaders and some members” of the PMOI.

Many politicians went out of their way to try to remove any stains from Khomeini and themselves but the most vocal was none other than Pourmohammadi who at first denied his involvement but then decided to simply justify his deeds: “We are proud we have implemented God’s order about the ‘hypocrites’ (PMOI or MEK). You cannot show mercy to the hypocrites, because if they can bloody and soil you, they will…We have stood against the enemy of God and people and confronted them with power…I didn’t even have one night of sleeplessness in all these years because I acted according to the law and Islamic Sharia“.
So, if the regime isn’t to blame, then who is? The West, of course: Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president and a would-be moderate who supports Rouhani, expressed his regrets over “a new wave of attacks directed against Khomeini…The wave has embraced virtually all foreign opposition media, to the extent that the mayor of Paris recently held an exhibition which recreated the scenes of executions in those days… The extent of support for the Mojahedin Organization at this time deserves to be pondered…The main objective of our international and domestic enemies is to take revenge from the unprecedented role and status of Imam (Khomeini).”

The regime and the people running it seem to have no regrets. The 30,000 victims of the massacre and the systematic organization of this massacre are not even irrelevant but are a testament to the true path of the revolutionary regime which exterminates anyone and anything that stands in its path. From Khamenei to Rouhani, the voice in Tehran over the massacre is clear: no regrets, only pride.

 

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The DEMOCTATORSHIP of Iran

Yes, for all intents and purposes, Iran is a democracy in that there are “free” elections for the presidency, the parliament and the Assembly of Experts. But there are four outstanding problems in this so-called “democracy”:

  • Unelected power: There are two institutions with enormous power which aren’t elected by the people – the Guardian Council and the Supreme Leader. These two centers of power are backed by the IRGC, a huge military and economic force in Iran and they have the dictatorial power to overrule the government, the elections, the parliament, the law and the constitution turning what should have been a democracy into a democtatorship.
  • No real opposition: Since opposing the regime is a sin, it’s hard to find politicians and leaders who are willing to put their lives on the line by speaking their minds and since the regime is hardline in nature, it stifles any opposition which calls for a more moderate and more secular government. Politicians who do oppose the regime have to tread a very fine line in which they profess their opposition enough but not too much.
  • The vetting process: The elections are not really free since the candidates are vetted before the elections by the (unelected) Guardian Council which has the right to disqualify candidates based on their beliefs, their level of religion etc…The vetting process is political in nature and during the last parliamentary election, the Guardian council disqualified 90% of the moderate candidates and only 30% of the hardline candidates.
  • The regime cheats: During the 2009 presidential elections, it seemed that the Green movement which was moderate and secular in nature had won the hearts and votes of the majority of the Iranian population. But the results of the election pointed to a landslide victory by hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. As protesters hit the streets, so did the authorities and thousands of Iranians were arrested (and still are arrested today) for questioning the decision of the regime.

These four problems are actually one big problem: the power of the unelected institutions of the regime. As long as the regime maintains its power, it will strive to maintain the status quo of the Revolutionary Ideals that defined it – Religious/Islamic/Shiite and anti-West/Democracy/US.

Since the next Supreme Leader will be chosen from within the regime, it will continue to maintain power indefinitely until it is toppled from within with the support of the masses. Remember, those politicians that did try to implement change within the regime found themselves either ousted (Montazeri for objecting to the 1988 massacre), under house arrest (Moussavi and Karroubi for contesting the 2009 elections), under media ban (Khatami for criticizing the regime) or sidelined (Rouhani for the nuclear deal).

Some might say that the civil wars, anarchy and frequent elections in countries that underwent an Arab Spring are a result of a misguided notion that Arab countries should be democratic and that such countries can only be ruled through dictatorships. These same people will claim that the rigid laws of Shaariah are more than enough to rule huge populations of Islamic believers. They will tell you that freedom and equal rights are no match for the blind obedience to Islam, to a regime, to a Supreme Leader, or to a dictator. They may be right on a general level but the price that those people who don’t want to obey blindly is immeasurably harsh. Such a rule doesn’t not allow for different voices and therefore doesn’t allow for any process of change and those that fell suffocated and oppressed by the regime cannot hope for change.

The only way to ensure that change will come to Iran is by a popular uprising by the people demanding to turn this democtatorship into a true democracy. Until then, the regime will prosper, as will the hardliners who support it. Those who don’t will either suffer for voicing their opinions or will be careful to enjoy their freedoms only in private.

Guilty until proven innocent in Tehran

The notion that someone is innocent until proven guilty is a guiding light for any country which places the right to a fair trial at the top of its priorities. Even in Western states which do value the ideal of a fair trial, people are sometimes arrested, or worse, based on the fact that they were presumed guilty. But usually, somewhere down the line, during the trial or even in the aftermath, the ideal of the fair trial comes back to center stage.

In Tehran, the notion of a fair trial is more akin to a fairy tale. “Criminals” are arrested, interrogated and tried based on the supposition that they are guilty and have to prove their innocence. In many cases, these “criminals” are summoned to court, without knowing why, are accused of crimes without being shown the evidence, are forbidden to meet their lawyers or have incompetent lawyers chosen for them. Why? Because for these “criminals”, their “crimes” are distinctly political in nature and “political criminals” in Iran can forget about a fair trial.

Of course, Iranian law and the Iranian constitution distinctly outline that anyone suspected of a crime has the right to a fair trial. But in Iran, the law is second to the needs of the regime and if someone criticizes the regime in any way, the regime can abuse the law under vague charges such as “spreading propaganda”, “national security” or “insulting the regime/the Supreme Leader/Islam/the Prophet” and the ominous Moharabeh (enmity against God)…all charges which can place an Iranian behind bars or strung from the gallows without a fair trial.

Here are a few examples which highlight the problem of striving for a fair trial in Iran:

Of course, these cases represent only a small fraction of the victims of unfair trials in Iran. The list seems endless but in the end the similarities are very clear: political prisoners, ie: people who criticize or oppose the regime in any way, can be arrested without being told of the charges they are under, can be interrogated and tortured for an unlimited time, can be denied access to lawyers, can be held incommunicado from their families and loved ones and will be forced to prove their innocence or profess their “regret” in order to gain their freedom.