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Mar 2000 TEHRAN - Iran's President Mohammad Khatami has warned the West not to misread the impressive election win by his reformist allies, saying Iran will continue to go its own way. "The Iranian nation will not lose sight of its goals on the basis of others wishes and delusions" he said yesterday. Speaking during a meeting with Foreign Ministry officials, he said the reformers' victory was a sign of our peoples political maturity." 'Reforms do not imply abandoning our principles." Khatami's Khatami's reformist allies swept to a stunning win against entrenched conservatives in the Feb 18 vote.

"If world powers have a good will they must adapt themselves to the wishes of our nation" "Iran will have a fitiing reaction to those who acknowledge our independence." Khatami reaffirmed his stated commitment to peaceful relations with the outside world. 'It is not difficult to invent enemies,' he said. 'The art is to turn animosity into human relationshipship. Iran will shape its foreign policy based on this thinking".

A new Iranian revolution is taking place. Forget the old images of the angry crowds in black swarming through the streets and chanting their hatred of the West.

Nearly three years ago, an apparently routine election for the presidency two colourless Muslim clergy - before that one of that candidates was genuinely set on changing the country. The result was a landslide 85% for Khatami in an election even his political enemies agreed was broadly fair. Khatami's most Important achievement after taking power was to gain control of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. Ever since Iranian cultural and political life has begun to blossom..

Last week the beaming face of Ayatollah Mohajarani, the Islamic Guidance minister said in his closing speech to the 18th film festival dealing with themes that would previosly never have been allowed here: social deprivation, despair of women trapped in unhappy marriages, desire of young people for something better than the Islamic Republic has so far given them "he hoped Iranian cinema would keep up the reputation it had acheived internationally."

For artists, an entirely new world is opening up - not simply in painting, but in performance art in which people play out roles that often shock the sensibilities of audiences used to the timid old ways of approaching subjects like marriage and death. Exiles are coming back to Iran in increasing numbers.

The definition of modesty is far wider now than at any time since the revolution against the Shah. Women in wealthy north Tehran openly wear makeup, coats are often above the knee, and open-toed shoes are making a comeback. Even at its most repressive, Iran was always centuries ahead of Saudi Arabla or many of the Gulf States in terms of the, professional and personal opportuniyies open to women. Now, many old petty restrictions also seem to be going. Presiding over all these changes is the calm, unremarkable figure of President Khatami. Stories abound of his modesty. leaving a hospital where the press had visit he smashed an expensive picture of himself given him by a courtier.

TEHRAN - They say that up to 100 men and women were officially murdered between 1987 and 1997, when Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani held the presidency of Iran. There were writers and intellectuals injected with potassium cyanide or stabbed to death; a married woman rumoured to have had an affair with a senior Iranian intelligence officer - she was silenced lest her story become public ; a priest; a homosexual and criminals who had made enemies of Iran's leadership.

The names of some of the murderers, many linked to the Iranian Intelligence Ministry are known to many in Teheran, but even in the astonishing breeze of freedom that drifts across the city in the aftermath of last month's parliamentary elections - no Iranian journalist has yet revealed their identities. One of the bravest of Iranian reporters, investigative journalist Akbar Gangi, writes for Sobi-Emrous, asked Rafsanjani's influential daughter, Faiza, if father knew of the suspected judicial executions. She said her father had no control over the Intelligence Ministry. "I said it was unacceptable that Hashemi Rafsardani had no control over the Intelligence Ministry. I wrote in my paper that if Rafsanjani really had no control, then how did he once manage to fire one of [Ali] Fallahian's deputies - in a case that involved Rafsanjani's family? Fallahian was a name uttered with fear only decade ago in Tehran. As the head of intelligence, he held the power of life and death over thousands; and in a regime which had hanged perhaps 20,000 30,000 - of its young male and female opponents he was not one to be crossed.

With at least six other named officials in Iran, he is said to have agreed to secret fatwas, ordering the murder of journalists, writers, clerics and crooks. Gangi's new book The Dungeon of Ghosts, talks of a secret committee - its members unnamed - who met regularly to decide which of the regime's internal enemies should be liquidated. "They were the eminence grise, a grey power which approved religious fatwas for killing people. Everyone knows who they are. "A month ago, I wrote an article about this. I mentioned the committee and pointed out that Rafsanjani was President at the time. It exploded like a bomb. "But I also wrote in the article that there were some questions about the relationship of Rafsanjani and the members of the committee." So was Rafsanjani one of the judicial kUlers during his presidency? Was he a man who had only to nod his Hojatolislain's turban - how we in the West loved Rafsanjani, thought he was a moderate chap, a reformer before real reformers existed in Iran - for the needle to be filled with poison? Certainly, he wanted us all to believe that he was a man who controlled events. Was it not Rafsanjani who, in 1988, told Ayatollah Khomeini' that the eight-year war with Iraq must end? Did he not reveal the Iran-Contra scandal? Was this not the man who tried to liberalise the economy of Iran? But I remember another Rafsanjani who took exception to a mild biographical profile, I wrote of him in 1987. 1 had concentrated on his origins - his father was a pistachio farmer - and the next time I arrived in Tehran, I was coldly informed that I should not stay long because "some officials from the Islamic Republic would like you to leave.' When Rafsanjani was the darling of our Western leaders all talk of his personal wealth was banished from the headlines. Not a single Westem reporter bothered to dig into the story of his friends and relatives. How come his son Yasser worked in the procurement office of the National Iran Oil Company? Another son, Mehdi worked in the main Iranian gas firm, and a nephew, Ali, was Deputy Minister of Oil. Was it true that Rafsa4mu @ big business interests in Germany, and that his family had residence cards in the West? One of Rafsaroani's relatives controls 47 per cent of an airline link between Iran and Saudi Arabia. After one oil-and-gas deal six years ago, an investigation into internal corruption led to the arrest of several close friends of Mehdi Rafsanjani. They were forced to return up to $US5 million to state coffers but Mehdi was not questioned.

Fallahian Ali Razini, -(who is currently a member of the Special Clerical Court in Tehran), Mustafa Pourmahamadi (the former Deputy Intelligence Minister for International Affairs) and Ruhollah Hosseinian (the head of Iran's 'documentation centre"), all sat in that dark room. The election of "reformers" last month appears, to have placed President Mohamed Khatami in an unchallenged position and his brother, Reza, leader of the largest winning reformist party, is now speaking of investigations into the murders of Rafsanjani reign. INDEPENDENT

New York Times Oct 31 1999

A Teheran court is a testing ground for irreconcilable views.


TEHERAN, Iran, Oct. 30 Iran's ruling Muslim clerics today began the apostasy trial of one of the country's most popular politicians, Abdullah Nouri, a cleric who has gone from being one of the most trusted aides to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to taking a key leadership role in a campaign to end the clerical dictatorship Mr. Khomeini imposed after the Islamic revolution in 1979. As turbaned clerics gathered in a courtroom ringed by armed commandos, few Iranians doubted that the outcome of the trial, before the much-feared Special 'Court for the Clergy, will go a long way toward determining whether the country moves toward greater democracy, or to a new era of clerical repression. A guilty verdict could conceivably carry the death penalty, although a lengthy prison term is more likely. For many of Iran's 65 million people, the trial has assumed the significance Americans attached to the Scopes trial in 1927, or people in England to the treason trial of Sir Thomas More during the reign of Henry VIII a moment when a courtroom becomes a testing ground for irreconcilable views about the future of a society and its beliefs, with huge social, philosophical and political stakes resting on the outcome. In the Teheran trial, which could last weeks, reformers and hard-liners will battle over issues that only a few years ago were taboo, the most crucial of them over whether the right to rule rests with the Iranian people, or with the clergy. But other, more tangible questions are on trial, too, including Iran's relations with the United States. High on the list of charges outlined in a 44-page indictment of the defendant is that the newspaper he publishes has advocated re-establishing relations with the United States. The prosecutor, a cleric, said that by running an article quoting another highranking cleric as saying that relations with the United States are "now a possible, not impossible thing," Mr. Nouri had betrayed the revolution and the Islamic principles that underpinned it. Although it is Mr. Nouri who is on trial, the 50-year-old cleric is widely regarded in Iran as a surrogate for the man many powerful clerics would like to see as the defendant, President Mohammad Khatami. But for the time being, the 53-year-old Mr. Khatami, another cleric, is untouchable, having won a landslide victory in the presidential election in 1997 over the hard-liners'. candidate.

Though most Iranians expect Mr. Nouri to be convicted, many say the trial could be costly for the hardliners, underlining an intolerance that could strengthen reformers' support. Even in the courtroom, the sense of the hard-liners' isolation from the society around them was reinforced by signs of the rapid changes afoot in Iran in the ringing mobile phones of reporters and clerics, and in the high-rise block of luxury condominiums rising across the road, evidence of a new business class that has thrown its support behind the reformers. Mr. Nouri, dressed in a cleric's collar-less white shirt, black robe and white turban, appeared to stun peers appointed to sit in judgment over him a judge and a nine-man jury, all of them clerics by taking the witness stand immediately after the indictment was read to say that it was they, not he, who had betrayed the revolution. More than that, he rejected their right to judge him, saying that the clergy court itself was illegal, having no place in the Islamic Constitution that was drawn up in 1980. "I totally reject the court, its membership, and its competence to conduct this trial, and any verdict you reach.will have no legitimacy," he said, in a clear, steady voice. "What I was thinking as I listened to the indictment being read out was, 'This is not a court, this is a self appointed cabal."' He added: " I ask myself, what has happened to us, to our revolution, to our faith, that it has is, that one group of clerics can make allegations against another like this?" Judge Mohammed Salimi, who is in his late 30's, warned Mr. Nouri not to insult the court. "You say now that this court has no legitimacy, because you are here on trial, but I don't remember you saying that about this court when you were holding high positions ot state," he said. The prosecutor, Mohammed Nikounam, in his 50's, reminded Mr. Nouri, ominously, that left-wing opponents ot the ruling clerics also contested the court's legitimacy atter placing a bomb in a Teheran building, killing 73 people, including many top clerics, in 1981. The bombers were executed. By challenging the court's legitimacy, Mr. Nouri came close to doing something virtually unheard of in Iran, even among reformers questioning the legacy ot Ayatollah Khomeini, the stern-faced cleric who became an absolute ruler in the years between the upheaval that ousted the Shah and his death in 1989. Mr. Khomeini established the clergy court by personal decree to deal with rising resistance to Islamic rule, but Mr. Nouri, citing the 1980 Constitution, said that not even "the leader" a reterence to Me. Khomeini -had the right to establish courts outside the tramework ot the Constitution. "Are we supposed to accept that the law applies to everybody except the leader?" he said. Wfth that, Mr. Nouri opened the key issue in the trial, md in the wider political struggle across Iran: Whether power will be vested in the people, through the President and Parliament they elect, or will continue io rest, as it effectively does now, wfth a group of deeply conservative clerics who take their authority from Mr. Khomeini's successor as the country's spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenet. Mr. Khamenei and his supporters say that their right to rule rests in a principle knowh in Iran as "velayat-i faghi," which means, loosely, that the country's top cleric, as "God's representative on earth," has sovereign powers. By holding Mr. Nouri's trial now and many other trials in which newspaper editors, reporters, student protesters and clerics who have joined the reform movement are defendants the clerical elite apparently hopes to strike a blow against the reformers ahead of parliamentary elections that are scheduled in February.

Among other things, the prosecutor cited an article in Khordad that said that people should be allowed to clap, whistle and cheer at concerts and political rallies an Islamic taboo in Iran, even though it has been frequently ignored in the freer atmosphere ushered in by Mr. Khatami .

Other articles the prosecutor cited as examples of "un-Islamic" atitudes included one in which an Italian woman joumalist critical of Iran's divorce laws, which are heavily weighted against women, and another that argued, in a reference io the clergy, that "absolute power cotrupts absolutely."

Still another quettioned the Islamic legal precept of "qisas," or eye-for-an-eye justice, under which Iranian courts frequently impose the death penalty, amputation other harsh penalties. Mr. Nikounam, the prosecutor, raised his voice indignantly. "What you are saying, in effect, is that people should be able to do anything they want, even to drink alcohol, no matter how offensive that may be to our Islamic beliefs," he said. He stood before a handwritten quotation froqi Ayatollah Khomeini that court officials had pasted on the courtrooib wall in which Mr. ]Khomeini warned followers to "beware of false cleric and false revolutionaries who, pretend to be holy," but betray Islam.