IRANS REFORMISTS LAST-DITCH ATTEMPT TO THWART CONSERVATIVE FOES
By Afshin Molavi 7.17.2003
WASHINGTON (EurasiaNet-PS) Reformist forces in Iran are making what some observers have described as a last-ditch effort to thwart the countrys increasingly defiant conservative minority, which controls the key levers of power in the Islamic republic. The reformists have appealed to the countrys supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenehi, to embrace democratic reforms over dictatorship "to save the country and repel foreign threats."
In recent years, reformers have suffered a seemingly unending string of political setbacks at the hands of their conservative rivals, who have forcefully resisted all attempts at modernisation by Parliament and President Mohammad Khatamis government. The defeats have caused much of the reformists popular support to evaporate.
The strongly worded appeal to (Ayatollah Ali) Khamenehi, sent on July 15 and signed by 350 reform-minded intellectuals, is clearly an attempt to blunt the conservatives political momentum. The appeal calls for the immediate release of all political prisoners, the revival of banned newspapers, a wide-ranging overhaul of the hard-line judiciary and the reduction of power of un-elected bodies that "contradict the peoples will".
The letter examined "a vital dilemma" facing the Islamic Republic: the choice between democracy and dictatorship. Rather than "succumbing to a despotic interpretation of Islam and the constitution by supporting people who do not have any standing before public opinion", the signatories urge Khamenehi to support a "democratic interpretation of the constitution".
"It is important that we make our views heard", signatory Ali Reza Alavitabar, a leading reformist intellectual and publisher of several banned newspapers, told "EurasiaNet".
"The Iranian population has become frustrated with the reformist movement because of our inability to ensure the success of our platform of political and social liberalisation. The conservatives have effectively used the system to block us", Alavitabar continued. "They must either stop doing this, or we must make changes to the system to ensure the democratic nature of the Islamic Republic, so they wont have the power to block popular will so easily".
The Islamic Republics political system grants disproportionate power to un-elected bodies and institutions, hampering the countrys fledgling democracy movement. Several of the signatories, including Alavitabar, signed the document at substantial personal risk since they are already under investigation by the judiciary.
"Freedom has costs," Alavitabar said. "Some of us must be willing to pay them."
The reformist appeal targeted three un-elected institutions in particular: The Council of the Guardians (CG), the Expediency Council, and the judiciary. The CG, an un-elected body of six clerics and six lay jurists, has the power to veto all parliamentary legislations. Several times in recent years, the CG has vetoed legislations introduced by the reformist-dominated parliament that would have strengthened Iranian democracy. The Guardians Council also has the power to vet all candidates for public office, and has repeatedly rejected radical reformist candidates, along with secular nationalists, and secular democrats.
Meanwhile, conservative have utilized Irans judiciary to jail, harass and intimidate their political opponents. Journalists who have been brought before the press court of Saeed Mortazavi have likened him to "a grand inquisitor" rather than an impartial judge.
The Expediency Council, headed by former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, was created in the late 1980s to mediate disputes between the Guardians Council and parliament. Instead, it has effectively proven itself an ally of the conservative camp, rarely siding with reformists.
The un-elected bodies have effectively created a dual power arrangement in Iran that one pro-democracy student group characterized as "a system of political apartheid." Reformists, including President Khatami, have repeatedly called for a reduction in the power of un-elected bodies, saying they interfere in the political system. Khatami has introduced legislation that would reduce the power of the Guardians Council and strengthen the presidency.
The July 15 letter warned Khameneh'i and the conservatives not to resort to violence and crackdowns against students and reformists who seek change. "Such methods are not only illegal and lack popular, religious, and moral legitimacy, but are also useless and inefficient," the letter said.
In the past month, Irans conservatives have stepped up their onslaught against opponents, jailing several leading journalists and detaining up to 4,000 Iranians who took part in nationwide anti-regime protests in June. Iranian officials acknowledged June 16 that interrogators had beaten a journalist to death in late June, following her arrest for photographing a Tehran prison. Conservatives also have taken steps to tighten control over mass media, issuing frequent orders to editors to not cover certain events.
One frustrated newspaper editor told EurasiaNet: "How can I do my job in this kind of environment? Im always wondering: will this next article land me in jail?" Recently, four editors have been ordered to serve jail time, bringing to 20 the total number of journalists behind bars.
The recent reformist letter comes on the heels of another letter sent to Khamenei a few weeks earlier by reformist parliament members, outlining some of the same themes. In that letter, they noted: "the vast majority of people are disgruntled and hopeless. The majority of elites are either silent or have chosen to emigrate. There is a massive capital flight and foreign forces have totally encircled the country." Couching their argument in national security terms, the letter writers wrote that only a real democracy would ensure the security of the state from foreign threats and internal crises. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Irans reformists are also facing a crisis of their own, observers say. Double-digit inflation and chronic unemployment has caused grumbling about economic mismanagement. The reformists inability to follow through on campaign promises has left many of their supporters frustrated. During recent student protests, several chanted slogans urging Khatami to act forcefully or resign.
In addition, Irans reformist camp is splitting into two factions one favoring substantial structural change, the other supporting a more cautious course, according to Alavitabar. He said the "structural change" reformists want a more aggressive strategy to promote reforms. Several of the "structural change" reformists in parliament "might resign within the next few months," a reformist MP, who asked not to be named, told EurasiaNet.
"Im not sure if it will make a difference in the short-term, but it would show that we cannot accept this anti-democratic assault," the MP said. "Perhaps the benefit would come in the long-term."
Irans conservatives, thus far, have shown little willingness to compromise. Their recent victory in Tehrans municipal elections has bolstered their confidence, analysts say. [For additional information see the Eurasia Insight archives]. In those elections, Tehran residents stayed away from the polls en masse, while the conservatives who rarely get more than 20 percent of votes managed to mobilise their base supporters and win the low turn-out election.
Conservatives hope to repeat that same winning formula in parliamentary elections in 2004, analysts add. ENDS REFORMERS VERSUS CONSERVATIVES 18703
Editors Note: Mr. Afshin Molavi is a Washington-based journalist who specializes in Iranian and Caucasus affairs.
EurasiaNet carried the above article on 17 July on its website
Some editorial works are by IPS http://www.iran-press-service.com/
The Murder of Canadian Journalist Sparks Bitter "Family Fight"!!
July 18, 2003
The Associated Press
Ali Akbar Dareini
TEHRAN, Iran -- The death of an Iranian-Canadian photojournalist in detention is being bitterly debated by Iran's elected reformers who hold hard-liners directly responsible for the death and unelected but powerful conservatives who blame the victim.
Vice President Mohammad Ali Abtahi said earlier this week that Zahra Kazemi, a freelance photographer, died of brain hemorrhage ``resulting from blows inflicted on her.''
Kazemi, 54, a freelance photographer from Quebec, was detained in Tehran on June 23 as she took photos of Tehran's notorious Evin prison during street demonstrations. She was never charged with any crime. Authorities had tried to keep journalists from covering the protests.
Abtahi, a close ally of reformist President Mohammad Khatami, said an investigation was continuing. He stopped short of confirming accusations by Kazemi's family and friends that the photographer was beaten to death by Iranian security agents who detained her as she covered the demonstrations led by students eager for reforms.
Prominent reformist lawmaker Ali Shakourirad another Khatami ally blames the hard-line head of the judiciary, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, and Tehran Prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi for the death and the resulting international scandal.
Reformers have long held Shahroudi and Mortazavi responsible for a crackdown on Iranian journalists that started years before Kazemi's death.
As a judge, Mortazavi was behind the closure of more than 90 pro-democracy publications and the imprisonment of dozens of writers and political activists over the past three years. Shahroudi promoted him to the rank of Tehran prosecutor earlier this year.
``The responsibility for the death of Kazemi rests with the Tehran prosecutor and the head of judiciary,'' lawmaker Shakourirad said Friday. ``There is consensus in Iran that Mortazavi is not competent. He tried to conceal the truth and now he has to answer many questions.''
Mortazavi is widely believed to have been behind the initial government announcement, now officially discredited, that Kazemi died of a stroke and to have pushed for quick burial after her death. A committee appointed by the president to investigate the death stepped in Tuesday to prevent the burial, a move followed the next day by the vice president's announcement that she died of a beating.
Kazemi's death and the presidential intervention is a reminder of the 1998 killings of at least four political dissidents, two of them writers and journalists. In that case, it was Khatami's intervention that forced the hard-line Intelligence Ministry to acknowledge its agents were involved, though the ministry said they were rogue operatives.
Hamid Reza Taraqi of the hard-line Islamic Coalition Society, insisted in an interview Friday that Kazemi herself was to blame for her fate.
``Kazemi was illegally taking photos, was detained and a situation developed naturally in the process of interrogation ... She was not tortured. It was due to her own physical condition. She herself should be blamed, not the ruling establishment,'' Taraqi said.
Taraqi accused the president of ``magnifying'' Kazemi's death at the expense of authorities.
``Weakening the judiciary benefits Iran's enemies,'' he said.
In the struggle for power in Iran, hard-liners, who resist any attempt to tamper with the late Ayatollah Khomeini's vision of a country ruled by clerics, lack popular support. Reformers who want democracy and social freedoms lack control of such key centers of power as the judiciary and the security services. Last month's protests were among the largest in years.
Political analyst say Kazemi's death will only worsen Iran's international image.
``It will also encourage the international community to condemn Iran for human rights violations,'' said university professor Davoud Hermidas Bavand. ``The death strengthens the position of countries like U.S. that believe dialogue has failed to encourage Iran to induce changes in its behavior.'' http://cbsnewyork.com/international/Iran-Canada-Journalis-ai/resources_news_html