Get ready for Iran to be in pitchforked into the headlines this week as the regime there prepares to get — and to receive — a double whammy. And there could be a triple whammy, too.
First whammy: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be inaugurated as President, even though the legitimacy of his vote is now seen in almost the same light as the rigged elections that kept Iraq’s Sadaam Hussein in power.
Second whammy: the an double-intent move, the regime will put the country’s top moderate reformers on trial — in what some experts believe is an attempt to both bolster the regime and send a defiant message to its critics at home and abroad. Iran is even threatening those who criticize the trial itself with jail.
Third whammy: It’s probable that the trial and Ahmadinejad’s inauguration could create a week in which the regime will face angry demonstrators and will respond with a strong pushback — which will create more angry demonstrators in the future.
The political scene in Iran right now is anything but sedate. AFP:
Iranian hardliners accused opposition leaders of treason on Sunday as defeated presidential challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi said the authorities used “medieval torture” to force confessions from protesters on trial over the election unrest.
Former president Mohammad Khatami also said Saturday’s mass trial of 100 protesters and prominent reformists was against the constitution, putting him at loggerheads with hardliners in an escalating feud between rival factions.
The powerful hardline wing took aim at both opposition leaders, accusing them of trying to lead a “velvet revolution” after the June re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and lodging a judicial complaint against Mousavi.
And another 10 people were brought before a revolutionary court on Sunday on charges relating to the massive street protests that erupted after Ahmadinejad was returned to power in what the opposition said was a rigged vote.
“Evidence of Khatami and Mousavi’s treason unveiled,” thundered the headline in the hardline Kayhan newspaper.
“The plot leaders are corrupt people whose unforgiveable crimes include killing innocent people and cooperating with foreign enemies,” it said.
“If the main instigators of unrest who are known are not confronted, they will continue conspiring.”
The Wall Street Journal’s Farnaz Fassihi puts it into perspective:
The mass trial of Iran’s top reformist leaders over the weekend on charges that include conspiring to overthrow the regime signals that a process is under way to eventually outlaw the reformist party and ban its members and supporters from political activity, Iran analysts say.
On Sunday, reaction by Iranian newspapers and Web sites to the trials of some 100 detained opposition members, including a former vice president, was polarized as some raised questions about whether their confessions were coerced.
The trial by the Revolutionary Court appears to be paving the way for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to secure his grip on power and cap a gradual takeover of Iran’s political landscape by hardliners. Mr. Ahmadinejad, whose government claimed victory in the disputed June 12 presidential elections, is to be inaugurated Monday for a second four-year term. Opposition leaders said the election was rigged.
Top reformist figures appeared in court Saturday looking disheveled and dazed. They sat in the front row wearing gray prison pajamas and plastic slippers without socks, in an apparent attempt to humiliate them in public. The reform leaders were unshaven and had lost weight.
Meanwhile, CNN reports that some top reformist leaders and Iranian moderates are blasting the trials (is a cell waiting to be filled by them?):
Iranian opposition leader Mir Hossein Moussavi and reformist former President Mohammad Khatami on Sunday blasted the trials of people arrested in post-election demonstrations.
Those on trial had been tortured into confessions, Moussavi said in a statement posted on his Ghalam News Web site.
“They have been stepped on so severely that they would have confessed to anything else, had they been instructed to do so,” Moussavi said.
Nearly 100 Iranians arrested in the aftermath of the disputed June 12 presidential elections went on trial Saturday, two Iranian news agencies reported. In addition, another 10 people went on trial Sunday, according to Iran’s government-funded Press TV, citing the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA).
Khatami blasted the trials as an “insult” to Iran and Islam.
“Such play-acting … damages the system and reduces public trust,” he said in a statement provided by his office.
Meanwhile, Hojatoleslam Mohammad Taghi Rahbar, a member of parliament’s Judicial Commission, on Sunday accused Moussavi and Khatami of being the main leaders of the recent disturbances.
“A complaint … regarding the extremist and destructive behavior of Moussavi has been handed to the judiciary and we hope that the judiciary would take up this case quickly,” he said, according to the semi-official Fars News Agency.
The Christian Science Monitor has a long must-read-in-full piece. Here are just a few parts of it:
The Iranian regime expanded its efforts to crush the reformist opposition on Saturday with the opening of a mass trial in which the accused are charged with crimes from treason to terrorism. Only state-owned media were allowed to cover the proceedings.
More than 100 defendants – many of them prominent figures and some of them shackled – were denied access to defense counsel as they listened to the array of accusations against them, which also included claims they incited riots and sought to overthrow the Islamic Republic. The trial continued on Sunday, though with only 10 of the accused in court.
The trial appears to be the latest attempt by the regime to shut down disputes over the legitimacy of the June 12 presidential election, which returned hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power.
….Hard-liners, meanwhile, are calling for the arrests and trials of more opposition leaders…..The charges Saturday accused defendants of having “participated in riots, acting against national security, disturbing public order, vandalizing public and government property, having ties with counterrevolutionary groups, and planning to launch a velvet revolution.”
While they carry a maximum sentence of 10 years, defendants could face capital punishment if they are judged to have been mohareb,an Islamic term that means “battling Allah.”
Among the accused was Mohammad Abtahi, a high-ranking cleric and former vice president in Mr. Khatami’s reformist administration. He appeared in a prison uniform instead of his usual clerical garb and turban, looking gaunt.
Read it in its entirety.
And then the Washington Posts fleshes out the human drama — and tragedy — playing out in Tehran:
In the early days of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Saeed Hajjarian advised the hostage-takers at the U.S. Embassy. During the Iran-Iraq war, he helped establish the much-feared Ministry of Intelligence. Then he turned in a democratic direction, running reformist newspapers and serving as a political adviser to President Mohammad Khatami. In 2000 a gunman aligned with a hard-line government faction shot him in the face, leaving him partially paralyzed and dependent on medication.
And for the past six weeks, Hajjarian, 55, has languished in prison, a key target of the apparatus he helped create.
“He is a great symbol of what the Islamic republic does to its own,” said Farideh Farhi, an Iran specialist at the University of Hawaii who first met Hajjarian in the 1990s. “Obviously, today, some in the Intelligence Ministry think he was the brain behind [opposition presidential candidate Mir Hossein] Mousavi’s campaign.” Hajjarian’s arrest, she added, “suggests his continued significance as a reflection of what the hard-liners most fear.”
Hajjarian was arrested three days after the disputed June 12 presidential election, along with thousands of other people. Family members said his medications for problems such as seizures and motor control have been administered erratically, which could lead to brain damage or death. After a visit last week, his wife, a doctor, described him as depressed and tearful, and said he has been interrogated in direct sunlight in temperatures of more than 100 degrees and doused with ice water, affecting his heart rate dangerously.
And if Iranians criticize the proceedings, the LA Times reports, the government is warning them they could go to jail:
Tehran’s hard-line Revolutionary Court warned Sunday that those criticizing its ongoing proceedings against postelection protesters could face jail time themselves.
The threat came after a chorus of reformists and even some political conservatives labeled as a sham the televised court hearing Saturday of about 100 defendants arrested in the unrest that followed the disputed June 12 presidential election in which incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the winner.
Iran’s main opposition figure and presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi, two former presidents and a former commander of the Revolutionary Guard voiced strong criticism of the proceedings, in which prominent moderate politicians and others stand accused of conspiring with the West to foment weeks of unrest across Iran.
Mousavi said their confessions “showed signs of medieval torture” and he termed the trial a “sham” meant to distract attention from allegations of vote-rigging that continue to dog Ahmadinejad as his Wednesday inauguration to a second term nears. Mousavi and many other prominent Iranian figures have vowed to skip the swearing-in ceremony.
Mousavi predicted the confessions would backfire.
True? Yes — it has happened in history. But it has also happened in history — more times than regimes have been toppled — that if a government feels it will use the full weight and force of the state against its critics and say to heck with domestic or international disapproval, it can stay in power. It depends how far it is willing to go (jail, concentration camps, executions) to obliterate the opposition, break the political and perhaps literal backs of young people who want a different life, and put hardliners in key positions of power throughout the country.
The backdrop for all of this is the certification of the new President — which will happen today. Times Online:
Iran’s Supreme Leader will officially endorse President Ahmadinejad’s re-election on Monday as the regime faces a fresh barrage of protests — this time over the “show trial” of more than 100 opposition figures detained in the crackdown that followed the hotly disputed ballot.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will approve Mr Ahmadinejad’s second term during a televised ceremony in Tehran attended by other regime leaders, and on Wednesday the President will take the oath of office before Iran’s parliament. Seven weeks after the election, however, the regime is still battling to crush the resistance of millions of Iranians who believe that the poll was rigged.
Will the U.S. government issue a strong statement or some kind of response to events in Iran? Prediction: it may be muted since, as Times Online notes, the U.S. is now trying to get something from Iran…which holds some human trump cards:
Tonight the Swiss Embassy, which represents US interests in Iran, is seeking to discover the fate of three American backpackers who were detained late last week after inadvertently crossing the border from the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq.
The Kurdish regional government said that the Americans had crossed into northern Iraq from Turkey on Tuesday at Zakho. They then travelled to Sulaimaniyah and on to the resort town of Ahmed Awaa, where they got lost during a hike and were detained by Iranian authorities.
Get ready to read a lot about Iran in what could be a tempestuous — and tragic — week.
SOME WEBLOG REACTION:
The whole situation seems like a flash back to the show trials in the old Soviet Union when Stalin purged those who were in the way of his personal ambition and/or opposed what he was doing to the country. One can only hope such nasty and brutal tactics will only harden the resolve of those seeking democracy in Iran. Those in the USA who fail to heed the insanity of domestic theocrats and the Christian Taliban should take note of how the Islamic equivalents of these people operate. Religious fanaticism combined with a lust for power (e.g., folks like James Dobson, Richard Land at the SBC and Pat Robertson) are a dangerous mix.
What matters in the short-term is not the cold dissection of yesterday’s events but the emotive reaction. Will the regime succeed, days before the anointing of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as President, in mobilising public opinion against the opposition or at least ensuring acceptance of its authority? Or is this another instance of going too far in trying to crush protest as illegitimate?
The challenge for the regime is that it cannot sustain the high-profile denunciation on a daily basis. It has played its strongest card with Abtahi. Meanwhile, the opposition is countering. A show of dissent was scheduled for this morning outside the offices of the head of Iran’s judiciary, and there is talk of protests not only for Wednesday, when Ahmadinejad is inaugurated, but also Monday, when he is approved by the Supreme Leader, and Friday, a day of celebration for Imam Mahdi’s birthday.
It is one thing to crush a reformist faction like the Islamic Iran Participation Front, whose leading members are on trial. It is another to take on both the Green movement and Rafsanjani by linking them so blatantly (and, I think, crudely).
The regime may “win” but, to do so, it is gambling. And far from cleaning up the resistance with an easy bet, it is having to raise the stakes.
The brutal regime in Iran is now trying political activists who protested the elections. No surprise, but nothing about this sounds fair or remotely just…
—Sweetness & Light has some good news excerpts, then offers this:
There really does seem to be some divisions in the ranks.
The trials are just another mistake of a regime that is quickly losing its claim to legitimacy by acting like they got their script from Stalin rather than the faith they claim to represent. Their insistence that the uprising against their phony election was driven by foreigners is an insult to the country they claim to represent as well as the intelligence of the people of Iran.
A mass trial has begun to punish activists who challenged hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during June’s presidential election, and are now accused of taking part in trying to stage a revolution. See democracy really does work in Iran after all (okay not so much)..
…The trial opening aired on television but barred independent journalists from the kangaroo courtroom in Tehran. The accused faced charges including rioting, vandalism and “acting against national security”, which could lead to long prison sentences. They could even face the death penalty if convicted of being “Mohareb”, an enemy of God. Iran’s more extreme puppet newspapers, have called on authorities to put both Khatami and Ahmadinejad’s challenger Mir-Hossein Mousavi on trial on charges of acting against God. That will show them who’s boss!
Kasra Naji, special correspondent for BBC Persian Television, says the timing and scale of the trial came as a surprise and suggests Iran’s leadership wants to send a message to stop any more protests.
At the trial, pictures from the packed courtroom showed seated defendants wearing prison uniforms and with guards next to them. The defendants included supporters of opposition leaders Mr Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi – both defeated in the election – and aides of former reformist president Mohammad Khatami.
‘Show trials’ tend not to end well…
—BagNotes has a screen shot of the arrested reformers sitting in a courtroom and writes:
It’s not just the sideways glance and the wary, haggard look of former V.P. Ali Abtahi (3rd right) who, it’s pretty clear, was forced to renounce the reformers. It’s also a.) the 1-to-1 pairing of the pajamas with their minders, b.) the look of the defendants lined up three rows behind him, the guy one behind resourcefully stealing a look at the camera to say, “this stinks,” c.) the fact the minder far left seems to be either curious about his charge, or about where Ali Abtahi is looking, and d.) the fact Ali Abtahi holds his statement on the minder’s side.