Conservatives in Iran Looking to Deliver "Knock-Out Blow" Against Reformists
July 22, 2003
Irans leading pro-democracy student group held a press conference July 9 to announce the cancellation of plannedprotests to mark the fourth anniversary of a student uprising. Leaders of the group, known as Daftar-e-Tahkim-e-Vahdat (The Office to Foster Unity), expressed concern that in Irans "hostile environment," organizers could not guarantee the protesters safety. They also predicted a stepped-up campaign by Irans conservative camp to quash pro-democracy forces.
They had no idea their prediction would come true so soon.
Shortly after the news conference, armed plainclothes security men, most likely from Irans Ministry of Intelligence, grabbed three of the student leaders as they emerged outside, pushing them into waiting cars and speeding away. An astonished press corps witnessed the entire episode.
One student leader described the action as "a government-sanctioned kidnapping." Meanwhile, an Iranian journalist said: "I couldnt believe my eyes. They put guns to their heads and shoved them in a car. It was like a scene from a Mafia movie."
Later that night, roughly 5,000 people gathered around Tehran University and nearby parks, despite a government ban on commemorating the July 9 protests and the Daftar cancellation of the organized student demonstration. Met by an intimidating force of riot police, plainclothes security officers on motorbikes and helicopters circling overhead, many decided to leave the area. Those who remained were attacked by vigilantes affiliated with conservative elements of Irans political leadership. Street clashes left scores injured and resulted in the detention of over 100 people, according to security sources.
The July 9 incidents help underscore the broad crackdown on freedom of expression being carried out by Iranian conservatives. Irans jails are swelling with dissidents, pro-democracy activists, journalists, and reformist politicians.
"We are witnessing a stepped-up campaign by the conservative camp to shut off all dissent," said a reformist parliamentarian who asked not to be named.
"They have made the calculation that they can get away with it," added the parliamentarian, who himself faces jail time on a number of charges brought up by Irans hard-line judiciary. "They have done this because they see the reformist camp as vulnerable due to its declining popularity."
Iranians, frustrated by the inability of reformists to deliver on promises of political liberalization in the face of conservative intransigence, have increasingly turned away from the once popular reformists. They are now seeking "third options" neither reformist nor conservative that have yet to form into viable movements. Indeed, the Daftar-e-Tahkim-e-Vahdat officially broke from the reform movement in an open letter to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. That letter sought UN assistance in the student movements struggle for democracy and freedom. In the letter, they described the reformists around President Mohammed Khatami as ineffective.
Conservative forces appear intent on crushing the reformists before the "third option" has a chance to coalesce, political analysts say. "The reformists are on their last legs and the conservatives seem to want to administer a knock-out blow," said Shirzad Bozorgmehr, editor of the independent Iran News English daily.
The conservatives confrontational methods, however, are threatening Irans international interests. The European Union, for example, announced July 21 that Iranian human rights abuses may force the EU to curtail economic contacts. As one Tehran-based European diplomat told EurasiaNet: "When the government rounds up students and puts them in jail and the news reaches our capitals, it makes it increasingly difficult for us to make the case that our dialogue with Iran is moderating its behavior." The EU diplomat was referring to the June street demonstrations in Tehran that resulted in the arrests of an estimated 4,000 people.
International scrutiny has intensified in the days following the death of Canadian-Iranian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi. A judicial investigation into the death is being led by Saeed Mortazavi, Tehrans chief prosecutor. Mortazavi is an unabashed hard-liner who regularly calls reformist journalists "Zionist spies" and "corrupters of Islam."
Kazemis death has helped produce an outpouring of criticism of conservatives practices. For instance, the group Reporters Without Borders described Iran as "the biggest prison in the Middle East" for journalists. At the same time, the Canadian government has become more aggressive in its calls for bringing those responsible for Kazemis death to trial.
Daftar-e-Takhim-e-Vahdat members feel that increased international pressure on human rights issues is needed to blunt the conservative-led assault on basic freedoms. Their open letter to the UN Secretary General is seen as an attempt to implement such a strategy. The trouble is, analysts say, appeals for outside assistance are considered a taboo by many in Iranian political circles. Some observers believe the letter prompted the arrests of the three student group leaders. Still, as one member of Daftar-e-Takhim-e-Vahdat said: "Without an international spotlight, the conservatives would take even worse [action] than what they are doing right now."
Editors Note: Afshin Molavi, a Washington-based journalist specializing in Iranian and Caucasus affairs, recently returned from a three week reporting trip to Iran. http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/rights/articles/eav072203.shtml
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Canada to recall ambassador over photojournalist killed in Iran
ABC News Online 7.23.2003
Canada says it will recall its ambassador to Tehran after Iranian authorities buried an Iranian-Canadian photojournalist who died after injuries sustained in police custody.
Canadian Foreign Minister Bill Graham told state-owned CBC Newsworld television the Canadian ambassador "will be back here before the week is out".
Following reports from Tehran confirming that 54-year-old Zahra Kazemi had been buried despite demands from her Montreal-based son and the Canadian Government that her remains be returned to Canada, Mr Graham said "we clearly want the remains of Madame Kazemi returned to Canada in accordance with the wishes of her family".
Referring to Iranian admissions that Ms Kazemi had been beaten while in custody and had died from her mistreatment, Mr Graham said "we insist on getting to the bottom of that".
Ms Kazemi was reportedly buried in Shiraz, Iran, earlier on Wednesday local time, despite repeated demands from Ottawa and for her son Stephan Hachemi, who lives in Montreal, that her body be returned to Canada for an independent autopsy and burial.
Ms Kazemi was arrested on June 23 while take pictures outside a Tehran prison and she died on July 11 after falling into a coma. http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/s908772.htm