Iran's intelligentsia shaken by wave of murders

Click to follow
The Independent Online
"WE ARE expecting some more assassinations," a source close to the Iranian security services told me a few weeks ago. When he spoke, Darioush Forouhar and his wife had already been killed but the grisly murders of three other Iranians had yet to be committed.

"President Khatami went to the United States to speak at the UN, to tell Iranian people to come back, to invest, to promise them that in Iran everything is now done according to the law.

"Forouhar's murder was an attempt to show the world - and Iranians - that Iran is not safe."

Now the demonstration of lawlessness has gone beyond even my informant's worst nightmares. Mohamed Jafar Pouyandeh had been missing since last Wednesday and his body was found only on Sunday; the 45-year-old writer had apparently been strangled.

Just four days earlier, another writer - Mohamed Mokhtari - had been found on a garbage tip, also strangled.

Forouhar, leader of the small opposition Iran Nation Party, and his wife Pavaneh were both stabbed to death in November. A third writer, Majid Sharif, also died last month, though relatives say he may have been the victim of a heart attack. But the Islamic Republic is clearly the victim of a very creepy series of assaults on the country's newly liberated intelligentsia. The sadism of the attacks is as frightening as the threat it obviously represents to President Mohamed Khatami who is perhaps the most popularly elected leader in the entire Middle East.

Somebody wants to destroy the civil society Mr Khatami proclaimed after his election last year and the usual suspects are being fingered.

The clerics who never accepted any deviation from Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's anti-western, theocratic regime - the current Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Khamenei, and his supporters - obviously come to mind.

Who was behind the trial of Tehran's progressive mayor, Gholamhussein Karbaschi - a Khatami ally - on dubious charges of corruption? Who organised the stone-throwing attack on a bus load of American tourists last month? The "Fedayin of Islam" who claimed responsibility was clearly a cover name. Who planned the assault on Ataollah Mohadjerani, Mr Khatami's spokesman, who was pushed to the floor of a mosque after Friday prayers and beaten up?

Ahmed Rezai, the young son of a senior Iranian official, said in the United States that Ayatollah Khamenei and his colleagues were planning a coup against President Khatami. But the Iranian security services have apparently not come to any conclusions.

True, Forouhar had "criticised Khamenei too much," as one Tehran businessman put it obliquely. Before her death, his wife Pavaneh had told the New York-based Human Rights Watch that the couple lived in fear of being murdered, adding that they thanked God each evening for granting them another day on earth.

But one Tehran daily newspaper - its owner none other than Mr Kharbaschi, the city's deposed mayor - pointed out that the gruesome murders may be part of an outside attempt to set Iranians against the Revolutionary Guards and Ayatollah Khamenei.

"You must remember that the CIA pushed small groups in Italy to kill opposition people so as to sow suspicion," the Iranian security source said. "There are many people in the West who do not want our President to succeed, who would like him to fail so that Iran can be regarded again as a backward country full of what you call "terrorists". Some people in Washington don't want to see enlightenment in Iran."

The killings have come when Iran's democracy is beginning to take on a human and very real shape. A new reform party, the Islamic Iran Participation Front, has been founded to stand behind President Khatami's supporters in February's municipal elections - a poll with a million candidates for 250,000 seats which will give wide decentralised powers to town councils throughout Iran.

The founders of the new party include a vice-president, four ministers, seven deputy ministers, nine journalists, a poet, a film producer and two student union leaders.

So broad is the spectrum of political debate that Iranians must read at least six newspapers to understand what is happening to their country.

Washington has taken Iran off the US list of countries that allegedly fail to fight the production and trafficking of drugs, though given Iran's ferocious series of executions of drug barons, this is not surprising.

President Khatami's approaches to the United States have been accompanied by new relations with the Gulf states. Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia attended a summit of Islamic nations in Tehran a year ago and now President Khatami has been invited to visit the kingdom by King Fahd.

Iran has meanwhile refused to be intimidated by American claims that it is developing weapons of mass destruction. And the Iranian defence minister, Ali Shamkhani, has warned that an Israeli attack on Syria - Iran's ally since the early Eighties - will be met by an Iranian military response.

"If there is an Israeli attack against Syria, we'll reply in a way which the Israelis cannot imagine," Admiral Shamkhani said in September, just after the Iranians showed for the first time their Shehab-3 missile, which, with a minimum range of 800 miles, could reach targets in Israel, Turkey, the Gulf or even parts of Russia.

Clearly, Iran still has enemies outside its borders who would be as pleased to see the collapse of President Khatami's "civil society" as his domestic opponents.

Comments