We condemn Iran’s legal sham

The following statement was released by The Middle East Research and Information Project on 7 August:

The Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP) denounces in the strongest terms the “trial” of 100 Iranian politicians, activists, journalists, scholars, students and ordinary citizens on bogus charges of subversion. The court proceedings commenced on August 1 and are expected to resume soon. It would appear that any one of the hundreds of Iranians arrested by authorities of the Islamic Republic in the stormy aftermath of the stolen June 12 presidential election could be dragged before the right-wing judiciary to face similar accusations.

Three writers whose work has appeared in MERIP’s magazine Middle East Report are in jeopardy as the mass prosecutions proceed. Maziar Bahari, a filmmaker and veteran reporter who has covered Iran for the BBC and Newsweek, appeared in court on August 1. State news agencies have reported that he “confessed” to participation in an alleged Western plot to effect a “velvet revolution” in Iran.

Human Rights Watch and other sources have transmitted word that Saeed Hajjarian, a reformist thinker and a top adviser to former President Mohammad Khatami, may appear at the next session of the mass trials. In 2000, Hajjarian was shot and badly wounded by henchmen of the hardline conservatives in the Islamic Republic. The economist Bijan Khajehpour, chief executive officer of Atieh Bahar Consulting, also remains in jail, after being seized at Tehran’s airport in late June.

“The arrest of some of Iran’s leading intellectuals casts a dark shadow over the entire country,” commented Shiva Balaghi, an editor of Middle East Report. “It demonstrates the unwillingness of the current government to abide by the most basic principles enunciated in the Iranian constitution. The alleged ‘confessions’ are transparently coerced, and no one with any sense could lend them any credence. Bahari joins the scholar Kian Tajbakhsh and numerous others who have been compelled to endure this indignity.”

The Islamic Republic has a well-documented record of torture and other maltreatment of political prisoners. In light of this record, and the haggard countenances of many present detainees, MERIP is deeply concerned for the physical wellbeing of Bahari, Hajjarian, Khajehpour and their incarcerated fellows. Hajjarian remains disabled by the 2000 shooting; Khajehpour is diabetic.

“Don’t be gulled by the hardliners’ token punishments of so-called bad apples among the security services,” remarked Kaveh Ehsani, also an editor of Middle East Report. “More revealing by far is their baseless detention of Ahmad Zeydabadi, Jila Bani-Yaqoub and other brave local journalists who dared to report in Persian on the shameless state intimidation of people protesting the pilfered election.” On August 6, the Islamic Republic sanctioned two prison officials for beating detainees, some of whom died, in the (for now) closed Kahrizak facility. The same day, authorities shut down the independent Association of Iranian Journalists.

Such actions are clearly political in intent. Independent journalists, like Bahari, Hajjarian, Khajehpour and the many other political prisoners whose names and faces are unknown to the global media, are victims of the hardliners’ determination to frighten into submission all Iranians who doubt the official “result” of the presidential balloting.

“The cost of the scare tactics has been high.” explained Arang Keshavarzian, another Middle East Report editor who was in Iran during the June 12 voting. “At least 20 protesters have been killed, and many others injured. The mass arrests and the regime’s strict monitoring of public conduct have led hundreds of professors, students, journalists, researchers, physicians, lawyers and other professionals to resign their positions, shut themselves in at home or flee the country. Iran’s entire education system, not to mention its economy, is at risk due to this new ‘brain drain.'”

MERIP points to articles of the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran which prohibit arbitrary detention and prosecution. Large numbers of the men and women languishing in Iranian prisons, including the 100 put on trial on August 1, are there only because they demanded that the June 12 vote be properly counted or because they objected to the brazen violations of electoral laws by organs of the state.

The constitution also bars torture and maltreatment of prisoners, outlaws the persecution of individuals for their beliefs, grants detainees the rights to representation by an attorney and due process, protects freedom of speech and the press and permits the free holding of public gatherings. These articles correspond to legal protections enshrined in the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a signatory.

It would appear that all of these constitutional provisions have, in effect, been suspended by the powers that be in today’s Islamic Republic. Chris Toensing, executive director of MERIP, concluded: “These are show trials before a kangaroo court. In the manner of a Latin American junta, the hardliners are draping judge’s robes over the law of the gun.”

MERIP calls upon all defenders of human rights to press for an immediate halt to the show trials, arbitrary closures of civil society institutions, dispersals of protests and other regime attempts to silence dissent. MERIP calls as well for the prompt and unconditional release of all persons paraded before the court on August 1 and all other Iranians who have been unjustly detained.