The letter read in part, “Your Excellency is aware that issuing such sentences against critics would only raise the cost of constructive criticism, isolate critics and drive society into stagnation.”
But the International Campaign also pointed out that Larijani had not responded to the letter and that he was not expected to do anything other than reject it out of hand. Such rejections have already been voiced by other officials including Prosecutor General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri. Regardless of mounting pressure from the international community and from certain sources inside Iran, the hardline authorities have repeatedly reiterated their intention to handle supposed criminal cases on their own, whether the persons involved are Iranian citizens only or dual-nationals.
With such a fixed mentality on the part of the judiciary and other government bodies, there is some danger of less prominent prisoners being dealt with in a particularly harsh manner. This danger was brought to the fore by another report on Saturday. That report concerns the spiritual leader Mohammad Ali Taheri, who had been on a hunger strike for three weeks to protest his political imprisonment, until he slipped into a coma on October 18.
The report notes that Taheri’s whereabouts have not been known since then. Although officials named the hospital to which he had supposedly been taken, his family could not locate him there and has not been able to contact him since. “If anything happens to him, we will hold them responsible,” his sister Azardokht said of prison officials.
Although prominent in some circles, Taheri has not been the source of the same sort of foreign pressure as has been directed against people like Narges Mohammadi and the several imprisoned dual nationals. In other words, he is a high-value political prisoner, but one whom the regime authorities may have more opportunity to deal with quietly, as they have presumably done with a range of other prisoners who have disappeared or turned up dead while in custody over the years.
The prospect of assassination was also recently brought up regarding another case, although the motives in this case would be rather different. On Monday, Al Arabiya News reported that sources had pointed to a plot by the Revolutionary Guards to kill a prisoner named Said Tossi, who had been well-known for competitive recitation of the Quran before he was accused of raping as many as 19 children of his students.
The same report points out that the Iranian judiciary has indicated that Tossi’s prospective trial will not be made public. But this desire for secrecy could motivate his assassination, as well. This possibility relates to the report that Tossi had “threatened to leak the names of 100 of Iran’s high profile officials also implicated in raping and molesting children, if he was prosecuted.”
If true, such reports highlight the lengths to which Iranian authorities will go to conceal misdeeds within their own ranks, even at a time when international criticism is allegedly making inroads into the Iranian political dialogue. Furthermore, opponents of the regime would be quick to point out that this secrecy is a longstanding feature of the Islamic Republic, resulting in a various past crimes being swept under the rug.
These crimes stand alongside the recent arrests, convictions, and human rights abuses as reasons for various international bodies to continue exerting human rights pressure on the regime. Toward that end, Rodolfo Canicoba has been urging the extradition of former Iranian Prime Minister Ali Akbar Velayati, according to the National Council of Resistance of Iran. Canicoba has made this request of Singapore, Malaysia, and most recently Iraq, during Velayati’s trips to those countries. The effort relates to Velayati’s involvement in the 1994 bombing of the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association building, which killed 85 people.
The bombing is widely accepted to have been an Iranian operation, but the regime has never acknowledged it and apparently negotiated with the government of former Argentine President Cristina Kirchner to suppress the investigation into the incident. Last year, Alberto Nisman, the Argentine prosecutor leading that investigation, was found shot dead in his apartment under mysterious circumstances, a day before he was scheduled to give evidence of the cover-up.
But the secrecy surrounding this prosecutors death, or that of the 85 victims of the AIMA bombing, pales in comparison to the secrecy that has long surrounded the 1988 massacre of thousands of political prisoners, mainly dissidents affiliated with the People’s Mojahedin Organziation of Iran. For nearly three decades, regime authorities had simply refused to acknowledge that incident while suppressing any public mention of it.
This secrecy began to crack in August when the son of the late Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri posted a 40-minute audio recording online, in which the elder Montazeri, speaking around the time of the massacre, condemned his fellow regime officials for participating in the “greatest crime of the Islamic Republic.” The regime quickly ordered the recording taken down, but not before it had been widely disseminated, making it impossible to contain.
Subsequently, some participants in the massacre were forced to acknowledge its existence and scope. Justice Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi, who had been a key player in the kangaroo court that sent political prisoners to the gallows that summer, recently declared that he was “proud” to have helped carry out “God’s commandment” of death for the PMOI.
Despite such public admissions, the regime has apparently been trying to contain the spread of the recording and the resulting public dialogue. As a first step toward this goal, authorities arrested Ahmad Montazeri, whose trial took place in its entirety over the course of four hours on October 19, according to the International Campaign.
The verdict has yet to be announced, but the nature of the case makes acquittal extremely unlikely. Montazeri was effectively forced to represent himself, as he was given a list of only 42 lawyers from whom he could choose his legal representation. He explained, “I preferred to show up in court without a lawyer because the court would not accept any reputable, free-thinking lawyer with the courage to take on a case like this.”
Montazeri also said of his legal self-defense, “What I’m insisting on is that eventually the state manage and settle the issue about the 1988 executions instead of trying to hide it.” He went on to recommend that the government form a truth commission and “possibly rectify any wrongdoings.” But this move also appears quite unlikely in light of Montazeri’s trial and the larger pattern of secrecy in Iran.
For that reason, many of the regime’s critics and opponents are instead advocating that the international community take the lead in investigating the 1988 massacre and in possibly bringing participants up on charges of crimes against humanity. Previous calls for a UN commission on this matter have come from the US Congress and from the Canadian Parliament. And on Monday, the NCRI reported that the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom had held a conference at the House of Commons to highlight Iranian crimes and abuses for which it had not yet been held to account, especially the massacre of political prisoners.
It remains to be seen whether these efforts will gain wider traction in the UN and the international community. But the advocacy for a commission of inquiry appears to reflect the growth in collective action, whether governmental or independent, over Iran’s persistently objectionably human rights record